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East County Friday, Sep. 10, 2010 9 years ago

School board adopts budget, millage increase

by: Pam Eubanks Senior Editor

MANATEE COUNTY — Citing the state’s failure to fund education adequately, members of the Manatee County School Board last week approved a $644 million budget for the upcoming fiscal year — a document that includes nearly $9 million in cuts as well as more than $6 million in revenues from a millage increase.

In three separate votes Sept. 9, the board voted 4-1 to approve a critical need operating millage of .25 for the upcoming fiscal year, to set the final millage rate at 7.591 — a .05 increase from last year — and to approve the 2010-2011 budget.

Board member Robert Gause dissented.

“The budget growth has outpaced the growth of the students,” Gause said. “The Legislature does need to fund education. … But it’s our job to live within our means. My position is we should have gotten our spending down.”

Gause said he trusts the superintendent and other district officials are working to keep the district in good financial shape but believes there may be more that could have been done to keep the district from requiring the critical needs assessment. He noted that during first two years he served on the board, it approved more than 13% pay increases in total for teachers, compared to the 1% pay cut teachers received two years ago.

Gause said he would review next year’s budget with an even more critical eye.

“There are things we could have done,” he said. “There are things we’ve still got to do.”

Longtime board member Barbara Harvey said she also felt some changes to the budget could have been made, but no solutions suggested to her by the public or others provided the same impact as the critical needs assessment.

“For this time in our school history, that was the best solution to the financial problem we have,” she said. “(It wont’ be appropriate) every time.”

Assistant Superintendent of Business Services Jim Drake said this year the district faced an additional $4 million in expenses to comply with class size, although the state is only giving Manatee County about $1.5 million.

The total state funding per student has decreased by 27% over the last 10 years, he said.

He also noted the millage rate for the district is down 21% from 15 years ago when the school district levied a 9.589 millage. The total 7.591 millage rate could result in a slight increase in assessments for some homeowners — about $8 for a homesteaded property valued at $167,000, for example.

The district has cut more than $44 million from its budget over the last two years. Superintendent Tim McGonegal said the critical needs assessment was necessary to keep the district from eliminating electives and other programs from schools.

After 10 days of school, Freedom Elementary proved one of the best examples of how the Class-Size Amendment is affecting education in Manatee. The school was nine students over meeting requirements with three children over in second grade, three in third grade, two in fourth grade and one in fifth grade.

In cases such as Freedom’s, the district will pay penalties for failing to comply with the amendment because the option is less costly than full compliance.

Elementary Schools Director Joe Stokes presented the second public hearing on class size compliance during the meeting Sept. 9.

“We have been very reluctant to make as many splits as we could have,” he said.

The amendment caps enrollment at 18 in pre-kindergarten through third grade, at 22 in fourth through eighth grades and at 25 for students in grades nine through 12 in core classes.

Contact Pam Eubanks at [email protected].

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