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Sarasota Thursday, Mar. 15, 2012 5 years ago

Sarasota School District puts off decisions suggested by analysis

by: Nick Friedman Managing Editor of Arts and Culture

The Sarasota County School Board members agreed during a workshop Tuesday that they found none of the cost-cutting recommendations from consulting firm MGT America to be appealing, as they prepare to tackle their 2013 fiscal year budget in earnest.

“I know what you heard is two hours of us telling you why we can’t do any of this,” said board Chairman Frank Kovach at the end of the meeting. “But the reality is that we’re going to have to do some of it.”

The consulting firm commended the district in its report, released March 2, calling it one of the best-managed districts it has evaluated. Sarasota earned 73 commendations, compared to an average of 50, MGT representatives said. Most notable among the commendations were those for excellence in planning and the high level of support the district has from the community.

Area residents who felt the district would benefit from an outside survey of its fiscal practices had hired the consulting firm through the Gulf Coast Community Foundation, based in Venice. The firm began its district analysis last November.

The School Board Tuesday focused on 16 of the 73 measures for improvement that MGT had proposed, which it said would lead to significant savings over five years.

Those changes included the development of an internal audit function, the elimination of 86 portable classrooms a year, the elimination of 12.5 specialty elementary school positions, to be absorbed by other teachers, a 10% reduction in classes with fewer than 15 students and the elimination of 10% of non-classroom teachers.

It also recommended that the district perform a comprehensive salary review, noting that Sarasota’s salaries are high by national standards.

Scott Ferguson, a spokesman for the district, told the Sarasota Observer Wednesday that the estimated average salary for a district teacher this fiscal year is $54,700. That figure does reflect the two unpaid furlough days the School Board built into the calendar this year to reduce expenses, he said.

Although the district can take pride in the fact that it is efficient and well managed, board members agreed that that also meant no low-impact cuts were left to be made.

“It’s a good and bad thing,” added Kovach of the results. “There isn’t any low-hanging fruit. Any cuts we make are going to have a negative impact, but last time I checked, we have $4 million to cut for the 2012-2013 year.”

Superintendent Lori White concurred.

“These cuts are going to have an impact on educational services at the classroom level,” said White. “It’s disappointing. That’s what we’ve been trying to avoid.”

The board members all agreed that they wanted to do everything possible to maintain promises they had made to teachers regarding salaries. They added that the proposal for cutting music and art teachers was out of the question.

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