MANATEE -- A statewide cut of $1.53 billion to Florida’s kindergarten-12th grade classrooms means Manatee County schools will likely have to eliminate $10 million to $15 million from the general revenue, according to Superintendent Tim McGonegal.
As a result, McGonegal offered one message to school employees, “We’ve got to live within our means.”
Whether that will mean fewer teachers or less classroom time remains to be seen. McGonegal said he will not announce any changes due to budget cuts until May 23, when he presents his budget to school board members.
District officials throughout Florida have started to forewarn teachers and staffers that the legislative budget, slated to be approved late Friday by lawmakers, hits teachers and students hard. Due to the changes with Florida Retirement System, dollars will be taken out of teachers’ salaries.
“They really put it on the backs of our employees,” McGonegal said about how legislators balanced the budget.
“Obviously the employees are taking a cut due to the employment contribution,” Manatee schools Chief Financial Officer Jim Drake said.
Students also won’t fair well with the budget changes. School officials statewide are saying the $540 per student funding decrease is far worse than they imagined.
“That’s a pretty good whack,” Drake said in response to the per student funding decrease.
Drake and McGonegal’s original projection, however, has not strayed. They gauged a $10 million-to-$15 million cut despite Gov. Rick Scott’s original budget proposal, which had Manatee schools cutting as much as $29 million.
“That would have been disastrous,” McGonegal said.
Drake and McGonegal are in the midst of determining what changes need to take place due to state lawmakers’ proposed $69.7 billion budget. The budget won’t be finalized until it’s signed by Scott.
“I’m still kind of slogging through the first calculation,” Drake said about the budget Friday afternoon.
“Essentially, we have put aside $9.1 million (in stimulus money).
Drake explained that many other school districts may have used those dollars to “plug the hole” that continues to deepen from budget cuts. School districts are talking about laying off teachers or not renewing contracts. Others are considering cutting classroom time from their days.
One of the only things helping Manatee schools is the projection for growth. Drake said the district projects an additional 1,000 students for the 2011-12 school year.
“With all the focus this year on luring businesses to Florida, our political leaders have forgotten a very important aspect of investing in our state,” Florida Education Association President Andy Ford said in a news release.
“Businesses want a tax-friendly environment but they also want to locate their businesses in places that have high-quality students who are knowledgeable, love learning and who are critical thinkers.”
The School District of Manatee County has cut about $55 million-$60 million from the operational budget over the past four years, Drake said.