EAST COUNTY — Last year’s end-of-school staff send-off — an annual Braden River Elementary School tradition — rocked, quite literally.
Principal Hayley Rio and fellow administrators turned the school’s cafeteria into a rock ’n’ roll-themed bowling alley, lining the floor with swimming pool noodles to make lanes, borrowing pins and dimming the lights.
Teachers bowled with gusto. Rio and others provided catered food and bought gifts for staff members.
But because the Manatee County School District desperately is trying to make up a $3.4 million deficit from last year, a ruling made by Superintendent Rick Mills and other finance staff will have impacts on events such as this one.
In an April 2 memo to principals, Mills asked school leaders to provide excess funds from their individual school accounts, called internal funds, to trim up to $1 million of the deficit.
The district promised to repay the borrowed money to schools at a later time. There are 53 public schools in the district.
Mills said the help from schools would contribute to replenish the district’s savings account to $6.3 million, as promised to the state.
Eligible district accounts to pay off the deficit include athletic department funds, after-school program money, vending machine revenue, lost or damaged books money and revenue from school pictures and yearbooks.
The district can only take state-determined unrestricted funds and cannot use money parents have contributed for specific issues, including clubs.
The district also cannot touch money acquired through fundraisers this fiscal year.
Mills vowed to meet with each principal individually and let each school leader determine which of his or her school accounts would supply much-needed dollars to the district.
After principals submit their proposals, the district must approve them.
Principals from East County Schools voiced tepid support for the ruling, all with an eye toward creating a sustainable district budget outlook, and promised not to give money away from accounts that affect the classroom.
Rio offered $8,000 from her internal accounts, pulling from funds that would have gone for books in the media center, taking profit from school pictures, student T-shirt sales and the school’s before school- and after school-care program.
She also said she delayed plans to purchase additional books for classroom libraries and scaled down volunteer and staff appreciation events.
Most of what she will give comes from the before- and after-school-care fund, an account that almost always operates with a large surplus that can be used for purposes other than before-and-after-care.
She normally pulls extra money from that fund to pay for the staff send-off event, she said. This year, the event will be more subdued — a fish fry and carnival-style games with inexpensive prizes.
“The event won’t cost a whole lot,” Rio said. “Now is usually the time I’m trying to buy the staff gifts; now it’s: ‘What can we do?’”
Rio has also had to limit staff development.
She eliminated teacher training planned for this summer, but the district couldn’t stop half-day monthly training the school holds though the school year.
“The district was very supportive of that,” Rio said. “We are all trying to be trusting. Children are still getting what they need to be getting. We just can’t have as many fun and thrills.”
Freedom Elementary School Principal Jim Mennes said he will use the school’s before- and after-school-care account to provide money to the district, as well. That fund, he said, has nearly $80,000 in it and always replenishes itself. The money rolls over from year to year.
“We were looking to fund big-ticket items, like an obstacle course outside and equipment for older kids at a cost of $20,000 to $30,000,” Mennes said. “(Having to lend money from his school-care account) puts that goal on the back burner. That’s OK, because it’s a long-term goal. This doesn’t affect our day-to-day.”
Mennes said he likes the fact that each school is doing a little to make an impact.
Gullett Elementary School Principal Kathy Hayes said 95% of what Gullett gives also will come from its extended-day program.
“We were informed all along that there was a dire need for schools to support the district to get us back to a 3% fund balance and we understand that need,” she said. “The district has done all it can do with their funds. They don’t do fundraisers downtown like we do here.”
In 35-plus years in education, Bill Stenger, principal of Willis Elementary, has never heard of a district borrowing money from schools. But, that fact doesn’t mean he doesn’t support the idea.
“Do I like it? No,” Stenger said. “Is it the right thing to do? Yes.”
Stenger spent the last few weeks going account by account, leaving funds earmarked for specific purposes, checking to see if others had more money than absolutely necessary.
His proposal, already submitted to the district and waiting approval, lends $42,000 from the school’s before- and after-school-care account.
That money would have funded staff training on implementing Common Core state standards. Stenger said he will delay training indefinitely.
In another hit, Willis’ PTO has been working to buy musical instruments this year. Stenger planned to supplement that with extra money from his extended day account. Now Stenger can’t give that boost.
The PTO will still buy the instruments, but not as many.
Other funds Stenger pulled from — out of 10 accounts — include a faculty fund with $1,000 earned from a teachers lounge drink machine and $1,099 taken from lost/donated textbooks and library books, money from a fund that previously already had to go back to the district.
“All of this could have helped, but it doesn’t hurt,” Stenger said.
Contact Josh Siegel at email@example.com.
WHERE CAN MONEY COME FROM?
Cannot be used:
• Money donated to schools for a specific purpose
• Money acquired from fundraisers this fiscal year
Can be used:
• Money donated without a specific designation
• Money rolled over and unused from prior year fundraisers
• Eligible accounts include: after-school program money, vending machine revenue, lost or damaged books money and revenue from school pictures and yearbooks.