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East County Thursday, Apr. 30, 2009 12 years ago

Letter to the Editor: Common sense can solve budget crisis

by: Douglas R. DePew

Manatee County Public Schools faces a projected $21 million budget cut. This follows almost $30 million already cut in the past year.  While the first cuts were strategically implemented to avoid impacting the children and their education, this round of cuts will be unable to avoid impacting their education and, by result, their future and ours. 

The school board has presented a detailed analysis. This offers a number of items that have been identified as potential areas to cut. The items impacting our children are clearly visible. Furthermore, the items affecting the staff directly interacting with our children also are visible. Staff has already been a part of the first round of budget cuts and has taken pay cuts as part of that cost savings. Asking staff to continue to sacrifice will lead to a departure of qualified and experienced people to educate our children. 

Examining sources of revenue and spending, one can’t help but notice the Capital Expenditures budget, which equals the same amount as the General Fund. Cuts have been limited to the General Fund (operating fund, essentially), and the General Fund can’t be leveraged to offset these cuts. The funds are required to be kept separate and to perform separate functions.

Manatee has instituted a local-option sales tax, of .5%. This tax was implemented to fund capital projects for schools. In times of growth, this was a necessary source of revenue. Now, in times of decline, student populations and shrinking budgets, perhaps this source of revenue may be of value elsewhere.
Reviewing the school board budget, the projection for 2008-2009 is for $22 million in local-option sales tax revenue. It is difficult to forecast 2009-2010, however a slight reduction is likely. In the overall capital budget, $211,427,182 exists for new construction, furniture, fixtures and equipment. 
If the local-option sales tax was put to a new referendum, to “split” the .5% between the Capital and General funds, this would put $11 million (again, based on 2008-2009 numbers) into the General Fund. Placing this $11 million back to the General Fund, I would suggest the following items be reviewed and taken off the list of possible cuts:

1. Reduce or eliminate curricular supplements (guidance, media, team leader, department chair, vocational ag, test coordinator, Exceptional Student Education Secondary Chair, Child Study Team Coordinator, remote school, etc. ($1,081,401)

2. Reduce or eliminate extra curricular supplements such as sports, dance, music, academic, student group leaders, etc. ($974,464)

3. Reading Coaches paid for from Supplemental Academic Instruction ($378,540)

4. Reading Coaches paid for from the Reading Plan ($757,080)

5. Eliminate Media Specialist at Elementary Schools, replace with aide ($1,623,732)

6. Elementary Schools share media specialists ($804,892)

7. Eliminate one specials teacher at Elementary, replace with a teacher assistant ($1,249,182)

8. Eliminate the subsidy for Employee + 2 health insurance ($2,984,297)

9. Eliminate Middle Schools sports ($110,000)

10. Additional 1% pay cut ($2,307,169)

The total dollar mount of returned items is $9,963,588. Using the $11 million sales tax suggestion, this list above still leaves $1,036,412 remaining to adjust for reduced revenue and/or additional suggestions being left off of the proposal list. This equates to a 9.4% reduction in sales tax revenues, which would be significant and thus should allow for some additional items to be spared.

One other suggestion follows with Item No. 3: Increase the temperature settings of all programmable thermostats by one degree for all time settings. 

Douglas R. DePew 
SAC Chair, Gene Witt
Elementary School


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