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East County Wednesday, Mar. 13, 2013 4 years ago

Manatee Schools employs budget freezes

by: Josh Siegel Staff Writer

EAST COUNTY — The Manatee County School District’s budget woes may have a new victim: the classroom.

In a Feb. 28 memo to Manatee County School District principals, School Board members and other staff, district officials revealed the implementation of cost-saving measures that include a freeze on hiring and the elimination of overtime and overnight travel in the face of a likely shortfall this year.

“We realize this will have some impact on students,” said Bill Vogel, whom the School Board hired in February to stand in for interim superintendent David Gayler while he was on vacation.

The freeze on general operating spending will be in place through June.

Vogel, who continues to assist Gayler, said the district failed to budget for certain personnel positions, after a system used to track the hires and departures of teachers was abruptly turned off in 2009 — a major factor in the district’s $3.4 million budget deficit, he said.

A new position-control system will be fully operational by the March 25 School Board meeting, Vogel said.
The district became concerned Feb. 27 about a potential shortfall for this year.Vogel wrote the memo with Michael Boyer, the district’s chief financial officer, the next day.

The new superintendent, Rick Mills, who is set to start work March 20, supports the austerity measures and was involved in the decision-making process, Vogel said.

Other freezes include a new limit on administrators’ spending with district credit cards and the use of heating and cooling systems during off-hours.

The district will review any extra requests for supplies and classroom equipment, and vacancies will be filled with temporary employees. Each school has an internal accounting fund, used for items such as field trips and after-school programs, that is separate from its operational fund. It can be used to make purchases, with district consent.

Interviews with East County school principals showed principals were upset, but not surprised, by the freezes and were accepting of temporary limits to their classrooms, if it means a brighter future.

One direct impact, which could be controlled by conservative planning, includes a teacher’s ability to print papers at school.

This year, the district gave teachers $150 per class for printing. Printing costs two cents per copy. In the past, if a teacher went over that amount, a school’s principal could pay the difference with its general operating budget. Now, schools can’t use that money.

The same rules apply to buying school supplies.

One McNeal Elementary School teacher who ran out of printing money said she has gone to her Parent Teacher Organization for help.

“I don’t think printing equates to good teaching,” said Norma Scott, McNeal principal. “I know I’m still going to see good teaching. And good teachers are conservative. Some of this is a responsibility.

“Do we like this? No. Do we want to help out? Yes. I know I’m not going to be in the hole.”

Hayley Rio, Braden River Elementary School’s principal, won’t be able to purchase support documents for writing necessitated by the new Common Core State Standards this year. She says the operations freeze simply means rearranging accounts, — such as using the internal accounting fund — and putting planned purchases on hold, rather than eliminating them.

“It’s a little frustrating not having the funds we want,” Rio said. “But, we all knew we had to be wise this year. Now it’s just a little more so. We’ll find a way to do it.”

This year, during regular meetings with his staff, Freedom Elementary School Principal Jim Mennes added one more item to his usual talking points of curriculum and school safety — the budget.

He said keeping teachers — and parents — informed has helped with fundraising and pushed the school to pursue grants.

“It’s a challenge, but it could be worse,” Mennes said. “How easy would it have been for the district to give pay cuts?”

Contact Josh Siegel at [email protected].

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