When School District of Manatee County administrators were planning the 2018-19 school year budget, they didn’t expect they would have fewer students in the system considering countywide growth patterns.
They might not have accurately forecast the effect of Hurricane Irma.
Heather Jenkins, the chief financial officer for the district, said enrollment in the system is down 293 students from a year ago. The district receives $4,200 per student from the state, equaling $1,230,600 less for the school year.
“This is normal after there’s a bad storm like the one we had last fall,” Jenkins said. “Students leave and don’t come back in those years.”
Although the district doesn’t have proof of why students left the area, they say bad storms have caused that effect in previous years.
Mike Barber, director of communications for the district, said districtwide enrollment dropped 146 students after a series of hurricanes, including Hurricane Wilma, threatened Manatee County in 2005, at a time when enrollment was growing each year.
“We do not know exactly why there was a decrease in students, because there had been a growing trend,” Barber said. “We are looking to see if this is a blip or the start of something different. Nobody can say for certain what the reason was.”
The School District of Manatee County has set a tentative budget of $820,522,314 that will be up for approval Sept. 4 by the school board. That budget reflects a reduction of the $1,230,600 for the lower enrollment.
Aside from the expected shortfall from the fall in student enrollment, Jenkins said the district has no major concerns with the rest of the budget.
Teacher pay raises account for $19 million in the budget, but that increase is covered by the 1 mill increase in property tax.
The district’s biggest expense continues to be construction costs as it builds three schools, including Dr. Mona Jain Middle School in Lakewood Ranch, to open for the 2019-20 school year. The district spent $24,613,993 on construction in 2017-18 and has projected $26,420,122 this school year.
“It’s not normal for us to have all of this construction going on at the same time, and it can get expensive,” Jenkins said. “Our last school built was (G.D. Rogers Garden Elementary School), and it was in 2009. It’s a fair amount of money, but it will be worth it when students see schools like North River being built for the future.”
Jenkins said the district has $119 million in its discretionary fund.
“I don’t really feel like we made any tough decisions when it came to planning the budget,” Jenkins said. “We just keep going. We watch our money like a hawk.”