Manatee County school officials announce spending freeze

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MANATEE COUNTY - In a last ditch effort to make it through the end of the school year, Manatee County school officials have announced an across the board spending freeze.

The district is attempting to cut as many costs as possible between now and July 1st, when the district's fiscal year ends.

Officials say only spending that is absolutely essential or emergency-related will be signed off on. Other than that the district will have to make do without until July 1.

The superintendent says this spending freeze will not impact students or learning, but others disagree.

The tightening of the proverbial belt continues for Manatee County Schools. "We've frozen our purchase cards, no longer purchasing on that, no longer any new contracts. Some of the measures that you have to do to stop the spending per se, we've implemented last week," says Manatee County Superintendent Rick Mills.

Only spending that is essential to the district or required by law to maintain health and safety will be allowed. Money for expenses considered unnecessary will be taken out of staff salaries and overtime has been eliminated.

Any exceptions to the freeze will have to be personally approved by Superintendent Rick Mills. "The bottom line is that we are taking active measures accordingly and appropriately to bring in a balanced budget this year."

While the freeze is painful, some say at this point, there’s just no other choice. "Oh they're drastic measures, and unprecedented. I'm not aware of any school system that has had to go to this drastic an extent as far as taking control over spending," says Manatee Education Association President, Pat Barber.

Despite the draconian cutbacks, Mills doesn't believe that students will be impacted. "I certainly don't think it’s going to impact our ability to deliver quality instruction in our classrooms. That’s not my concern. My concern more is our ability to close out this budget year and to identify dollars and other opportunities in our budget, so we can re-invest it back into our classrooms next year."

Barber disagrees. "I don’t see how anything that happens in the school system doesn't have an impact."

While the road ahead is sure to be rocky, Mills is confident the district is on the right path. “We'll be on the road to recovery next year."

"I’m more skeptical about that, because this is not the first time I've heard that, so we'll wait and see how it turns out," says Barber.

A big piece of this puzzle moving forward in regards to next year is just how much money the district will receive from the state. Officials say that won't be known until July.

Right now the freeze will last until July 1, although Mills said that could be re-evaluated to decide whether any part of that will be implemented next year.