Manatee County School district releases economic recovery plan

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BRADENTON - Faced with the threat of being overtaken by the state and with its teachers fearing layoffs, the Manatee County School District is releasing a new recovery plan they hope can help turn around its dire financial situation -- and it includes $21.9 million in cuts.

"We're at the fiscal cliff, and we have to do what we have to do to get fiscally sound," said Manatee County School Superintendent Rick Mills.

Mills released the action plan to get the district out of a $38 million budget shortfall; a 90-plus page report by the state's transition team is the basis for that plan. But, the report did more than just examine the district's financial health.

"As it says in the report, this district has had a lack of leadership and commitment and has lost sight of the goal to prepare students," said Mills.

And the report didn't stop there.

"There is a culture of reaction rather than a proactive commitment to excellence.  Most say they want change, but few embrace the change -- especially if it affects them or their friends," Mills added as he quoted pages of the report.

According to Mills, the report gave a full analysis of the school district and all its components.  

The recovery is broken down into 3 phases: cost recovery, revenue enhancements and systematic change.  And that change will include the loss of jobs; 96 of which are from the district offices.

Deputy superintendent Diana Green says about 180 are teachers and school support staff.  "Prior to this year, Manatee County has used a much more generous class size, and we are at a point where we can no longer afford to have our class sizes below the state's required class size amendment," said Green.

But the changes do include adding 7 jobs the district says is needed to implement the recovery plan.  They also say the money saved from trimming the fat will be used wisely.  "We're reserving sufficient funds for a proposed 2% raise for all employees except for senior management."

In addition, the district says they will use the money saved from balancing the budget to pay back the money they borrowed from area schools general funds.  And Mills says none of which will be possible if the cuts aren't made.  "If we don't take the most ouster measures to turn the school district around we will be subjected to state take over."

The transition team will be here next week to discuss the details of their report.