State Politics

School district funds may stay same

MANATEE — Under proposed legislation in Tallahassee, the Manatee school district would get a slight increase in funding of $1 million or more, but because of changes in how financing is calculated the total would essentially be the same as last year, a district official said this week.

The Florida House of Representatives and the Florida Senate are readying separate budget plans for floor votes, with both chambers showing a slight increase, said Jim Drake, the district’s assistant superintendent for business services.

Each calls for millions in spending cuts, although largely sparing public schools, and including about $3 billion in federal stimulus money. Conference committees will try to reconcile differences before the 60-day legislative session ends May 1.

“Overall, both plans show a slight increase in funding for Manatee County because we’ve had a little bit of growth, but the increase is a little deceptive,” said Drake.

“To fund it, they took another quarter of a mill out of our capital budget, about $6.3 million.”

“Obviously, we won’t know the actual number until the conference committee (meets), although they’re very close,” said Drake of the two plans. “We estimate $287,288,129 for fiscal year 09-10, starting July 1.”

Even with a $1 million increase, Drake predicted a “very strong possibility” that local taxpayers might have to cough up more money.

“It might not be an enormous amount, $10-11 million, and when you’re talking about a $290 million total, that’s 3 or 4 percent,” Drake said.

Previously, the state had paid for some transportation items and instructional materials, but now, because of new calculation methods, those costs will fall to the district to pay, Drake explained.

An analysis by Mixon and Associates, a firm that lobbies for the district in Tallahassee, pegged the increase under the House plan at $1,845,928. The proposed Senate plan was not significantly different, it said.

Also noted in the analysis:

n Despite the recession, Manatee’s enrollment has increased by 85 students since 2007. While the increase is small, other districts are down, like Pinellas County, which has lost 6,000 since the 2006-2007 school year.

n The availability of federal funds has been a big plus. “Without the stimulus (funds), each district (Manatee and Sarasota counties) would have lost another 5 percent of their budgets,” the analysis said.

The House Appropriations Council on Education and Economic Development this week signed off on its education budget, authorizing spending of $20.8 billion for public schools, community colleges and universities, The News Service of Florida reported.

The council was able to increase the per pupil funding from $6,860.36 to $6,890.46 by using expected stimulus dollars and by moving different categories into the per-pupil student funding formula, it reported.

“We’ve tried to do what we can to protect education, but it’s a challenge,” said state Rep. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton. “Every aspect of this budget is a challenge.”

“We worked extremely hard to protect education,” he added. “When you look at the budget as a whole, we’re cutting all the state employees’ salaries, no one is immune from the cut. I’m cutting my salary another 5 percent, we’re cutting the cabinet, all the elected people...”

“If we can keep them at a flat line, then that’s pretty good for this year,” he noted.

In May 2007, the district budget reached a high of $303,870,301, with enrollment listed at 42,007, according to Mixon and Associates. Thus, the total has declined about $16 million per year from its peak, with current enrollment projected to be up by 16 students, the analysis found.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.