MANATEE COUNTY — Members of the Manatee County School Board have waged war against accounting blunders that left the school district with a $3.4 million deficit and are calling for more accountability and transparency as they look for ways to bring the district back into solid financial health.
Although some members of the board still had concerns about the budget’s accuracy, the board moved forward in unison, adopting its $555.7 million 2013 fiscal year budget unanimously.
“The community expects us, as a board, to work together,” School Board Chairman Harry Kinnan said. “I think the end vote shows we are.
“Our goal is to keep money in the classrooms,” he said. “Next time we build the budget, we should start with teacher salaries — that’s about 62% of the budget. I think that will solve some of (the issues.)”
Although former Superintendent Tim McGonegal left the district with a plan to cut the budget by millions of dollars when he resigned Monday, Sept. 10, the board approved further cuts, as proposed by Bob Gagnon, who is serving as the superintendent on an interim basis. The changes would shave another $765,408 from the budget, allowing the district to bring the reserve fund up to 2% of the operating budget, compared to the 1.8% McGonegal proposed and the 3% mandated by state. It also sets aside $200,000 for an independent audit and other associated costs.
“There should be a very limited impact on schools,” Gagnon said. “No one is losing their job at this time, and there is no plan to cut pay.”
Gagnon’s proposal includes $150,000 in savings from on-time retirement; $125,000 by reducing the Amer-I-Can Program to one semester next year; $100,000 from rental income; $100,000 in vehicle-maintenance repair; $80,000 from deferring Scholastic Read program upgrades; $50,000 in rollover funds to support science fair coordinators; $110,000 saved from over-allocation of teachers at Central High; $256,016 from deferred hiring of six specialist positions; and $153,886 from the Manatee Technical Institute’s Workforce projection coming in under budget.
A 1% salary bonus is still on the table for inclusion in the budget, but the School Board may opt for a set bonus amount or limit bonus awards to employees making under certain dollar amounts. Limiting the bonus to certain employees could save the district an additional $19,650 to $120,540.
McGonegal’s initial corrective action plan proposed about $5.7 million in savings, primarily by holding district-level positions vacant; filling school-level, non-instructional positions with substitutes; adjusting staffing to reflect new student count figures; putting tighter restrictions on out-of-state and out-of-county travel; lower fuel costs and holding in reserve $500,000 in the Reading Categorical.
At the request of supervisors, Gagnon will bring forward a monthly report of non-budgeted expenditures approved by the superintendent, without board approval, for under $50,000, as allowed by district policy. The change is intended to help the board monitor spending more closely and create more accountability for the district.
A committee of two School Board members and a group of citizens are working together to select an out-of-town law firm to oversee an audit of the district’s budget. The committee is slated to meet Sept. 24, to select the top three firms, from which it will seek proposals. The firm selected will be responsible for finding an independent auditor to conduct an audit of the budget and oversee the process.
The School Board will meet again at 5:45 p.m. Sept. 24, to discuss Gagnon’s role as interim superintendent and the plan he has for his department — that of teaching and learning — as he leads the district in an interim capacity, among other topics.
Contact Pam Eubanks at email@example.com.