EAST COUNTY — Last year’s budget appropriated money that didn’t exist.
Some dollars were budgeted for one program but spent on something else.
A new Manatee County School District leadership team rushed to put together a legitimate budget but could not build on a past that had no validity.
So, it started from scratch.
“This is a balanced budget,” said Don Hall, the new deputy superintendent of operations. “The expenditures and revenues match. This is the first time that’s happened in a long time in the district.”
The Manatee County School Board unanimously approved the tentative 2013-14 budget plan July 29; it includes a $342.9 million operating budget — from a $564.9 million total budget — that had to cover next year’s expenses and fix mistakes of the past.
Superintendent Rick Mills said a line-item budget, which has not yet been published, will be revealed during an Aug. 29 public hearing, an extra meeting not required by law.
The School Board will not vote to adopt the budget until Sept. 9.
It’s all in the name of transparency.
“Last year’s budget has no validity,” Hall said.
Superintendent Rick Mills and his staff scrambled to build safeguards that would prevent repeats in previous budget errors by installing new budget controls. The process put the district seven to eight months behind in the budget process, because they could rely on a few non-negotiable truths.
Rising home values will bring the district $5.5 million more in revenue from property taxes compared to last year, although the School Board approved a 0.22% reduction in the tax rate.
The millage rate will go down — from 7.59 mills to 7.57 mills, although homeowners will pay more in school property taxes due to a roughly 4% increase in property values.
The district received more state funding this year, including $8.2 million set aside for teacher salary increases.
Increased state funding and property-tax revenue of $22.8 million also will cover money for charter schools and an increase in Florida Retirement System rates.
Additional costs to the budget, which include no new projects, must go toward bandaging past budgetary mistakes.
The district set aside $10.3 million to meet the state’s minimum 3% fund balance, or reserves — a necessity the district hasn’t fulfilled in three consecutive years.
District staff expects to have the required reserves after creating savings mostly from the elimination of 182 teacher positions and 96 cuts from the district office, property sales and the closing of the old MTI campus, among other measures.
The savings will also go to recoup a $6.3 million deficit from last year.
More money will fund a 2% raise for all employees except senior staff; the raise is separate from the teacher raises the state allocated.
“We wanted to do it right, and we refused to do it like the past,” said Michael Boyer, chief financial officer for the school district. “It was excruciating to fund things that weren’t there (budgeted) before. It was extremely painful. This is a lean budget, believe it or not.”
Another $500,000 goes to reimburse 33% of funds taken from internal accounts earlier this spring to boost district reserves, Boyer said.
The district hopes to repay all of the money over the next two years, once it has the means to.
As an example of a new district theme — one revolved around control — Diana Greene, the new deputy superintendent for instruction, expects more savings to come from something as simple as centralizing the purchase of instructional materials.
Previously, schools would buy books and other items on their own, many times spending more than budgeted amounts.
The budget will also include cuts, a breakdown of which will come in the next few weeks.
Within the next month, Mills and his team will present to School Board members a list of unfunded programs, which, in the past, were paid for but not budgeted.
Staff has budgeted for those programs now, but the board can discuss cutting or massaging programs to find more savings.
District staff already is working on next year’s budget and hopes to host related workshops and town hall meetings in October. Within that timeline, a framework of the budget would be set no later than June.
Contact Josh Siegel at email@example.com.
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