EAST COUNTY — The new Manatee County School District leadership team has a new motto: Just say no.
No wasteful spending. No new programs. No fear of accountability.
But, as in life, in managing a school district, “no” sometimes means “maybe,” and “no” requires flexibility.
Because more students have filled Manatee County classrooms this year, the district announced it will hire 85 teachers.
“Some unexpected items have come our way, and we want to be transparent about them,” said Superintendent Rick Mills, the man hired to lay a new foundation for a broken district that suffered a multimillion-dollar budget deficit before his watch.
Offsetting the 950 extra students recorded in the first 10 days of the school year requires the addition of 55 teachers. Another 30 elementary school teachers will be hired to meet Florida class-size requirements.
Hiring the additional teachers will cost the district $4.3 million, of which $2.1 million will come from the state, $1.2 will be provided through Title 1 funding and $1 million that was already built into the budget.
The hirings come after the district cut 182 teaching positions in May — most of whom have found jobs inside or outside the district — as part of a plan to recover from the deficit and meet class-size requirements.
At a public hearing Aug. 29, the first chance for the public to speak on a 2013-14 fiscal year line-item budget released a week earlier, district leadership announced another $3.9 million in unexpected costs to this year’s budget.
The district must sell surplus property to pay for the extra costs — which staff noticed when it closed the books this month — and maintain a balanced budget.
The costs include: $1.6 million to fund an extra hour of school for low-performing schools — none of which is in East County; a $75,000 audit of sales tax revenue, which had been misused in the past; and $150,000 in legal costs for the school board.
The district also found it needed to spend $920,000 to trim last year’s deficit. Other costs are more mundane, such as the $27,000 increase in the telephone bill.
All of the money will come from the general fund.
“When you go to the level of detail we did, you see things you haven’t seen before,” said Don Hall, deputy superintendent of operations. “Life happens, and when life happens, you have to respond to that happening. It doesn’t change our goal of meeting the state-required $10.3 million fund balance (reserves).”
The school board had little to say about the budget updates, except that it felt refreshed to see an actual line-item budget, a 417-page document broken down by individual school.
Basic accounting practice represents progress from past budgets that appropriated money that didn’t exist based on data from bookkeepers who were not properly trained to manage them.
Board member Bob Gause did question whether costs such as the sales tax audit could wait until the district has more money.
He also regretted more money that’s budgeted to fund school board travel.
“We have significant challenges and serious staff limitations,” Gause said. “We’re asking everyone to spend less, but the board is spending more. This district needs every dime it can get.”
Mills responded that the district needs answers now.
“I’m not comfortable where we are at right now with a lot of unanswered questions about the sales tax,” Mills said. “We need to have the answers to these questions.”
Mills and his staff did not have the answer to how many students would actually show up to school — until now.
Hall said the district had expected to lose students to charter schools.
But an influx of migrant students and a shift of students from charter schools to public school required the additional teachers.
Pat Barber, president of the Manatee County Education Association, the district’s teacher’s union, said the teaching positions are open to anyone, including non-renewed Manatee teachers who were not rated highly enough to be rehired under a “memo of understanding” with the district.
The memo said that highly rated teachers who had lost their jobs in the district could be reappointed to the school they taught at or at other district schools.
As it is now, Barber described schools with crowded classrooms and shuffling teachers. She hopes the new teachers bring stability — and growth.
“It’s always positive when the district is growing,” Barber said. “It’s even greater when you didn’t expect it to be that way.”
Contact Josh Siegel at [email protected].
Major budget adjustments
Changes to the 2013-14 fiscal year $345.5 million budget since July:
$1.6 million to fund an extra our of school for five under performing schools
$920,000 to make up the 2012-13 budget deficit
$150,000 in legal costs to the school board
$27,000 addition to telephone costs
$75,000 sales tax audit
$4.3 million to pay for 85 new teachers