Posts Tagged ‘Budget’

Budget reductions approved, jobs cut, unnecessary programs stay?

March 11, 2010

The Sun Post reports that the School Board approved $3.8 million in budget reductions March 1 and seem reasonable:

Reductions at the administrative level next year will include 29.5 full time equivalent administrative and support staff positions, reducing travel and conference fees and moving school board elections to even years.

Cuts are needed because of declining enrollment and reductions in state aid to school districts, officials have said.

“This is an important decision you are making, but it’s not necessarily a final decision, ” Superintendent Also Sicoli said. “If there is anything you choose to remove, there is nothing to prevent the board from adding it back.”

Cue the “Hokey Pokey” song and dance after that last sentence. Further into the article, we found this:

Closing three school buildings in the spring of 2009 avoided a $2 million annual cost, and passing a referendum in 2008 enabled district officials to restore $5.6 million in programs and staff for the current year. In addition to reducing class size, preserving the arts, saving gifted and talented programs, partially restoring middle school activities and avoiding cutting media specialists.

Note the numbers and programs saved from cuts:

The total $5.3 million in reductions represents 4 percent of the district’s operating budget, Smith said.

He noted that 80% of the district’s operating budget goes to personnel costs.

The board agreed at a work session Feb. 8 not to cut most of the elementary programs on the list of proposed reductions, including full-day kindergarten, visual art specialties, instructional assistants all district choir, band and orchestra and elementary orchestra and band.

To paraphrase an old expression, some on the School Board fiddle while Rome burns. Students are failing AYP and in the basics, but they can draw and sing about it. 
Play on!

We are pleased that Tom Walsh said “we are maintaining a fund balance in case additional state cuts come down the pike.” The teachable moment here is that self reliance makes you stronger: if you can budget without state dependence you stay above water, not sinking in the sea.

We are interested in the school board’s discussion of moving school board elections to even years, saving the district money in odd year elections. This could mean board members agreeing to stay on a year longer (Tyrell, Basset and Van Heel) for a re-election vote in 2012 instead of 2011, and shortening others’ terms (Green, Walsh, Bomchill and Johnson). Putting them up in even years makes sense, when voters are paying attention. Despite parent and voter frustrations last year, a tiny percentage cared enough to come out to vote and change course.

Bleak Financial Situation or Golden Opportunity?

January 29, 2010

The Sun Post reported this week that “District 281 faces (‘bleak’ in print, or ‘dire’ online) financial situation.” Despite passing a referendum in 2008 and closing three schools, our district like others around the state are looking at serious budget cuts. 281 has to cut $5.7 million. The state may be dipping into districts with funds and Robbinsdale might be one source to borrow about $2.4 million. Remember, borrowing means it will be paid back eventually.

Dr. Sicoli advised the school board to “begin thinking about areas in which they are willing to make budget reductions.”

Turn to the editorial section in the Sun-Post and you’ll find an editor there making valid points on reform. Paul Wahl wrote,

The reason we need reform is because we’ve reached the end of what can be cut. It’s no longer a matter of doing more with less, it’s doing less with less.

…Reform might mean eliminating a department that isn’t state or federally mandated.

Think of the freedoms and money districts would have by chopping those unfunded mandated programs!

For schools, reform often centers around choice – charter schools, open enrollment and similar plans. Those many have started their lives as reform, but it’s hard to argue too strenuously either represents reform in light of today’s education challenges.

We’ll buy the argument with open enrollment, as we’ve seen the issues with security and mobility expenses “The Choice is Yours” program added to the budget – despite getting money ($12,000) for each student who enrolled. However, a charter school would attract district students back and neighboring students. And, a charter school decision is our choice – we set the rules, unlike CIY which was a forced government ruling from a lawsuit.

But what comes after the last budget cut finally severs the bone? When and how are we going to make the tough decisions that shape what schools and cities will look like 10 years from now? When do we start the conversation?

The divestiture committee met this week, and we’ll post updates. For us, selling unused properties is a glaring golden opportunity to get funds in. Allow a charter school here and bring back fleeing students going to other districts. Be brave, district leadership! Think outside of the box, beyond 2010, and government and union strong-arming which has drained too many district, city and state coffers. The choice is yours.

Check out Give2Attain’s article with links to the spreadsheet and comments:

Budget Reduction Announcement
Budget Adjustment Worksheet

Some things to remember when looking at the linked worksheet:

  • $1 million = ~83 student drop at ~$12,000 per student (09/10)
  • $3.6 million = ~300 student drop at ~$12,000 per student (10/11)
  • The 10/11 student reduction is an estimate which could easily vary higher or lower. (ie guesstimate)
  • This is why schools are interested in enticing the students back to the district, or pulling open enrollees into the district.
  • This is variation across ~12,000 students, so though the numbers are big, the percent variation is fairly small. (300 kids = 2.5%)
  • $5.7 million gap = $5.9 million fund bal goal – $ .2 million forecast
  • As DJ pointed out: apparently ~$3 million of the gap created when the latest contract was signed. (G2A S and L) Now is this labor or mgmts fault… Either way, all of us will pay in the coming years.
  • This is operating dollars, not capital… Selling facilities will not raise funds that can directly offset this. Though, it would result in reduced maintenance, heating, etc expenses.

281’s fuzzy math

October 27, 2008

Speed Gibson digs into a fuzzy math claim on RSD’s claim, “The 67 Percent Solution:”

You may remember some legislative proposals to require that at least, say, 65 percent of K-12 spending go “directly” to the “classroom” – whatever that means. As I recall, these never got beyond the guidelines stage, probably because everyone realized how difficult this would be to calculate, let alone enforce.

Take for example the Robbinsdale School District’s claim that 67 cents of every tax dollar goes for instruction, specifically “teachers teaching our children and the books and other supplies needed to educate our students.” This is from a recent mailing from the District. Is this really true? Let’s try to find out.

First, let’s look at the tax dollar. Per the chart on page 37 of the 2008-2009 budget which supplies most of the figures below, 90 percent of the revenue comes from state, property, and federal taxes, in that order. You could argue that the other 10 percent is largely for meals and non-academics like sports, but I’ll use the worst case value of 90 percent below.

Now, how much are we spending? The total budget is $ 187 million, from which I’ll subtract meals and Community Education (including ECFE) to get a net $ 173 million a year. Applying the 90 percent figure above says that $ 155 million tax dollars are being spent this year. The flyer says that 67 percent of that is for instruction, which is $ 104 million. Dividing that by the enrollment of approximately 12,300 gives us $ 8,462 from taxes per student.

Going back to the flyer, the lowest class size shown in 25.4, for fifth grade if both Referendum questions pass. That works out to about $ 215 thousand dollars per class. One teacher with benefits costs about $67,000, but since the average teacher only teaches during 4 of the 6 hours, I’ll flex that up to an even $100,000. Subtracting another $ 5,000 for books and supplies leaves another $ 110,000 in taxes allegedly being spent on “instruction.” Where, pray tell?

Now I’m sure the District can show us how they came up with the 67 cents of every tax dollar figure but given the language they attached in the flyer, it has to be rather contrived. I requote the flyer’s definition of Instruction: “Teachers teaching our children and the books and other supplies needed to educate our students.”

The flyer does cite the preliminary District Audit Report as its source. I read the previous year’s Audit Report and Management Letter which shows Instruction as 56.6 percent of 2006-2007 expenditures, 55.6 percent for 2005-2006. I therefore infer that the 2007-2008 percent is almost certainly under 60 percent. Their definition of Instruction appears more broad, possibly including some Community Education I believe, yet their percentage is significantly less than claimed on the flyer. Why, pray tell?

I offer this to again say that District communications need significant improvement, as the Strategic Planning process has identified as Priority 4.

Where then does the money go, if not for “teachers teaching our children and the books and other supplies needed to educate our students?”  I’d guess that it’s not where it should be going, and that 281 administration will not answer (because they know it won’t support their fuzzy claims).