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School District Seeks to Clarify Budget Woes

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BRADENTON – At a workshop Monday, the Manatee School Board was made aware of several budgetary problems caused by a combination of mistakes and surprises on multiple fronts. From miscoding to unanticipated costs from fines for last fiscal year's audit, higher than projected ESE costs, and a higher than anticipated student count this fall, the district is down $3.9 million from the numbers in its approved budget.

However, in a statement released yesterday, district officials sought to explain the problem in greater detail, while refuting reports that there was a "hole" in the budget, or that it is facing another deficit.

The district has acknowledged that in deciding to shutter the alternative school, Central High, while sending the teachers out to the other schools their students were reassigned to, it failed to account for the $800,000 in teacher salaries when presenting this year's budget. Another $780,000 was missed in an item called "lead program funding" - monies sent out to schools for certain supplies.

The district says more money was needed for a $410,000 penalty from last year's audit and that discovered deficiencies in Exceptional Student Education compliance would cost an additional $1.54 million, while legal costs and litigation fees incurred while the district has been without an attorney added to projections as well. 

The adjustments put the projected fund balance at nearly a million less than the $10.3 million which was included in the financial recovery plan submitted to the state by Superintendent Rick Mills. The district said that it would have to look at all manners of cost saving from leveraging property to cutting hundreds of thousands from the general fund, but still planned get to the $10.3 million figure.

The following statement was released Tuesday by Stephen Valley, the Manatee County School District’s Director of Communications, Family and Community Engagement:

Today’s article in the Bradenton Herald indicated that the district is facing a $3.9 million “hole” in our budget. For many readers, they are left with the impression that the district is going to face yet another budget deficit. This is not what was reported at the board workshop yesterday and anyone who attended would know that to be the case. The article does not tell the whole story and we welcome this opportunity to set the record straight.

As we explained in our workshop, the $3.9 million is divided into the following categories:

We are responsible for oversights and miscoding for $1.5 million. We accepted full responsibility for these errors and made no excuses. Actions and new processes have been implemented to avoid future occurrences.

Over the past few months, our new Director of Exceptional Student Education (ESE) has identified numerous compliance issues. For example, inconsistent services applied to gifted students. It is not a specific time allotment to gifted students, but it must be consistent and accessible to all students who have been identified as gifted. In addition, we have identified 60 additional three-to-four year olds who have a disability and to date are in need of services. We have been actively locating these students, but our current classrooms are full. Therefore, we need to hire more ESE teachers. These necessary changes resulted in an additional unanticipated cost increase of $1.54 million.

We were also recently briefed on our State Auditor General findings for FY 12-13. The findings resulted in a penalty of $410,000 to be paid this fiscal year.

There are other unanticipated costs for monthly legal costs and litigation fees as we have been operating without a staff attorney for three months, as well as additional security costs that bring us to the $3.9 million figure.

Also presented yesterday was a corrective action plan to cover the $3.9 million. The staff has identified and presented a $2.95 million plan. The remaining shortfall of $950,000 will continue to be addressed, which could be covered with property sales.

Our commitment is to balance our budget and meet the $10.3 million originally forecast to meet our fund balance. We constantly are looking for additional ways to reach and/or exceed it. We have had to apply some creative problem solving and made some difficult decisions. We anticipate making a financial turnaround in this district of over $17 million in one year. Upon initial analysis, the current district spending, as of today, is substantially lower than this time last year. Most organizations would celebrate that type of fiscal turn around. Again, we ask the public’s support in understanding our challenges as we move forward to address a multi-year problem and to get all the facts before formulating opinions.

Our team has worked tirelessly to be transparent in every area of our business. We diligently answer questions from not only the board but also our community. Our goal is that the community be informed at all times with all the information - good or bad.  Together we can bring this district back to one known for academic and financial excellence, but it will take all of us working patiently together knowing it won’t happen overnight.


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