Possible school closures on the horizon in Manatee County

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BRADENTON - More details of the Manatee County School District's financial troubles are coming out. And now some are fearing that schools might be forced to shut down.

"The projected budget for last year had been overspent by a considerable amount of money," says Pat Barber, president of the Manatee Education Association.

And that overspending left the school district with a financial deficit for the current school year, as well as millions off from meeting the state guidelines -- which require all districts to have at least 3% of their overall budget in an emergency reserve fund.

"They've been taking very drastic measures to get those funds."

Barber says those measures include pay cuts for employees as well as stopping all unnecessary spending. "If it didn't have to do with the health and safety of students or required by law, they have been restricting any spending."

But despite the tight budgeting, the district is still way off its goal. "The last figure I saw was around $6 million."

Many speculate that the next step to get things back on track is closing some schools. But Barber says that's not likely. "When they even tried to close the school in Duette, it was about ten years before they even did anything with that school and it ended up being converted to a charter, not being closed."

But parents say school closures shouldn't be an option. "The kids need their school," says parent Linda Kelley.

"Closing schools should not be a discussion, because education is very important," says parent Gwendolyn Heinson.

In the meantime, Barber says the district may have run out of time to get the funds. "I'm not sure if anything can be done. I mean our fiscal year ends June 30th. It's almost April 30th…I'm not sure what things can be cut."

ABC 7 put a call into the state Department of Education, and they say if a district doesn't meet the 3% requirement, the education commissioner could appoint a new board that would take over school operations.

Manatee County School Superintendent Rick Mills declined our request for an on-camera interview. He did say in a statement that they are having an economic recovery plan released to them in June. When that information is released, they will make it available to the public.