Manatee County Schools say new budget has a surplus

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BRADENTON, Fla. -- For years, the Manatee County School District has been plagued with budget woes. But all that may now be over.

During this week’s school board meeting, members were informed that for the first time since 2010 the district will close out the year with a positive funds balance. At this time last year, the Manatee County School District had a fund balance of negative $9 million dollars.

Now they've made a miraculous turn around, as the district went from the deficit to now a $4 million in surplus.

“They paid attention to how they spent their money in the year that just concluded," says district CFO Conley Weiss, about the recovery plan the district put in place to dig themselves out of the financial hole.

And with the close of 2013-2014 school year, they seem to be on track. "The superintendent and staff rallied around that, and for the past year have been watching the size of their financial footprint very closely. And where they stand right now is from minus 9 to plus 4."

But to really understand the financial turnaround, you have to look back a few years. “The situation is much more dire than I anticipated in my arrival here," said new Superintendent Rick Mills back in June of 2013.

At that time, the district was about 30 million shy of meeting the state required balance. It resulted in budget cuts and hundreds being laid off.

The move got the district close to being on track, but in April of this year there was more bad news.

"In total, the restoration cost assessed to Manatee County is $7 million." The assessment was for failing to meeting state funding requirements, and It left the district $9 million shy of the required balance, which led to a spending freeze and more layoffs.

The district also cut several items out from the budget, like funding for the YMCA technical school, and made changes to their charter school transportation agreement.

In fact, the district is said to have reduced its expenses in everything from supplies to electricity.

But despite the first positive fund balance in years, the district is still below the 3% surplus balance required by the state.

"We'd hope to meet the 3%, and we are budgeting for the 14-15 year to hopefully have in excess of that," says Weiss.