Every year the budget (spending) increases and the proposed budget for the 2014-2015 year is no exception. While some of the increases are for much needed items such as increasing the pay for new teachers and for substitutes, new math curriculum and maintenance, there are still too many budget items that never seem to be questioned.
The district continues lamenting about the “negative factor” and how if the State would fund per statute then all would be well in the Land of Oz. The real issue is that the economy is not producing the tax revenue needed to fund all of the needs and so the State must allocate funds based on priorities and funds available.
How many of you have seen your income decrease or a promised raise not materialize? Do you year after year calculate the amount of lost income and lament that if only your boss had given you the raise promised five years ago, you could remodel the kitchen? Of course not as most people spend their time and energy on how to reduce costs and/or increase their income.
This new budget is projecting to spend $126,180,629 which is $8430 per funded pupil and this does not even include the federal and state grant monies. The educational establishment continues to cry out for more money and insists that more money is the answer to improving student achievement.
Is it really? Does the data (you know those pesky facts) support this claim?
We decided to compare the FY09 budgeted expenses and 3rd grade reading test scores to the current year’s budgeted expenses and 3rd grade reading test scores. And guess what we found?
In FY09 the district spent $110,989,701 or $7662 per pupil and 75% of 3rd graders were proficient or advanced in reading.
For FY14 (current year) the district is budgeted to spend $121,187,216 or $8072 per pupil and the 3rd grade reading test score is 74.8% proficient/advanced.
So we spent 5.3% MORE on each student so that we could DROP .2% in reading scores – does this make sense?
We understand that the new board is still trying to learn how to work together and some are even still learning about the budget process, but why is no one on the board insisting on setting the bar high for student achievement?
Ms. Ann Marie Sanchez who is in charge of the new literacy program seems quite capable and we believe she has the talent and the resources to make great things happen in the district. So why doesn’t the Superintendent, the Board of Education give her a challenge worthy of her skills and set high goals to achieve in 2014-2015?
The Literacy Program will have spent over a $1 Million dollars and we believe the students and the taxpayers should experience and see phenomenal results.
Enough with the soapbox rant and now to the numbers which we know you are all anxiously awaiting!
The funded pupil count which is based on the enrollment count done every October, is projected to decrease by approx. 46 pupils but because the State has increased the per pupil funding the revenue is increased $5.3 million.
The total general fund expenses are $126,180,629 which does create a deficit in the General Fund and even Steve Towne the district CFO includes this on page C of the proposed budget.
In summary: Revenues INCREASED $5.3 Million and Spending INCREASED $4.94 Million which means the district INCREASED spending a total of $10.4 Million!!!
Approx. $4.1 million of the deficit is classified as onetime expenses but it would seem that some of these onetime expenses also occurred last year which seems contrary to being labeled as onetime. Examples are:
Cap Reserve: Athletics $ 60,000
Cap Reserve: Loss Prevention Support $ 72,000
Cap Reserve: Leases (Energy & Admin Bldg) $ 608,000
Literacy Support $ 500,000
Thompson Education Foundation Support $ 33,000
We will ask Towne at the meeting why recurring expenses are labeled as onetime expenses to be paid from reserves and we will post his response as an update to this article.
The balance of the onetime expenses are for the much needed Math Curriculum Update, jumpstarting summer school, technology upgrades, facilities maintenance, SOARS Computer Lab upgrade, pay increases and so forth.
While we won’t bore you with all of the specific expenses, we do wish to at least highlight a couple of areas of concern.
Teachers on Special Assignment: These are licensed teachers that are not in the classroom and while some of these assignments may be justified, we doubt that all are needed. As of the October 2013 employment data, there were 18.15 FTE for a cost of $1,275,511 and there were also 11.50 FTE for Instructional Coaches at a cost of $781,189 which is a grand total of $2,056,700
What would be nice is if we could have a rational discussion about what exactly do these employees do, how do they benefit the classroom and what impact (must be measurable) do they have on student learning. Just because a person questions the validity of an expense, it does not mean the person sees no value in teachers or district staff.
A question is a request for more information and it is a shame that asking questions has become demonized within this district.
This is a topic that is sure to anger those on schedule A but given the financial constraints it would be irresponsible to not at least have the discussion.
We understand that in the negotiations for the 2005-2006 budget that teachers and staff did agree to forgo a raise (We can’t get specific information on how many) but at a certain point does the district continue paying out in excess of $1.5million (teachers on schedule A receive $58,014 when they retire OR when they resign) every year while curriculum is not updated, maintenance is not completed, etc?
We will be doing a separate article which focuses only on the Severance Program but we do believe that this is an issue that needs to be addressed soon.
Other Expense Items of special note:
Ecare Kindergarten: this is a program for full time kindergarten that was funded by a grant which has run its course and is now moved over to the general fund. The projections for 20 students comes at a cost of $6,472 per student or $129,446 annually.
Department Budget – Equity & Diversity: What is this line item for? Why did the budget go from $10k to $29,096? Is this a mandated expense?
Substitutes Accreditation: Given that no budget existed last year for this what is this? Again is this something mandated? The cost of this is $50,724
There are other items but in the end the issue is that while Steve Towne has been working hard to improve the level of detail and the level of transparency, it seems that there is still work to be done.
The budget process must have more input from the Board of Education and we believe there must be more analysis of what expenses are truly needed and actually provide a value and results to the students and to the taxpayers.