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Thursday, January 13, 2011

Budget Work Session

Dorothy and I attended the Board Work Session on the budget yesterday afternoon/evening. It was not a pretty meeting and not just because of the subject matter (which is grim). Here's a summary first and then some general items of interest in a separate thread (it's way too much to write every question and answer but ask me questions and I'll see if that got covered). Dorothy, you chime in if I heard it wrong or leave something out.

The meeting was videotaped so it should be available at some point for viewing. I also can't find the Powerpoint yet so that is to come. UPDATE: here's the link.

Summary

The budget gap is $36.6 million. Here is the explanation Don Kennedy gave in a staff memo:

Our current budget gap, based on the governor’s proposed budget, for next year is $36.6 million. While the impact of her budget to Seattle Public Schools was not as negative as we projected, we nevertheless have a significant budget problem. In addition to the $36.6M gap, actions taken last month by the state eliminated approximately $15 million that we had planned on using to help close the budget gap. Therefore we now essentially have two problems: the $36.6M gap and the elimination of $15 million of solutions.

The $15M issue (which oddly was not part of yesterday's discussion) is explained like this:

In my budget update #2, that I sent out on December 8, I announced a hiring and spending freeze for the current year. The purpose of that action was to save money this year that we could use to help close the budget gap for next year. Last year, a similar action resulted in approximately $5 million in savings. This year we estimated that the savings would be $6 million. As a result of the governor’s proposed budget and the special session of the state legislature that was held in December, the state is cutting Seattle Public Schools’ current year funding by $5.8 million dollars. We did not anticipate this. As a result, we will have to use the $6 million of savings from the hiring and spending freeze this year instead of for next year’s budget gap. We are taking this action in order to minimize any potential mid-year personnel cuts in the current school year.

The budget issues basically boil down to two things; what the staff/Superintendent want versus what the Board wants to be a priority
AND
the fact (as put by DeBell) that this is not going to be a one-year pain.

Our nation, our state is going to take years to come back so no one should expect those state funds to come rolling in next year or even the year after. It may be at least 5 years. I am sorry to put that into print but I believe that Michael is right and at the least, we should plan as if he is correct.

As the meeting played out, it became clear that some of the disagreement is going to be over protecting schools versus protecting the strategic plan. Let me be clear; I do NOT believe the Superintendent or staff are trying to hurt schools or feel the schools can be okay with less. But I do believe that the Superintendent believes the strategic plan is so vital that it must continue on and needs a lot of central staff to do it.

The Board wants to protect schools first. That is the message I heard from all the Board members in varying degrees (well, I didn't hear it from Harium and Betty because they spoke the least - it is my perception that they feel this way as well.) Update: reviewing my notes, Harium DID say that as a Board, they want to fund schools first. My error and my apologies.

Here's what was in the Powerpoint that first led me to this thought:

Page 7 under Key Points to Remember, (bold mine). "Our reductions must allow the strategic foundation that has been built to stay in place ( i.e. VAX, Performance Management, ADW, and assessment system).

(Please note: Kay did ask and it was verified that they meant "migration off of the VAX." This was one of many unclear pieces of this Powerpoint that gave it that thrown-together feel.)

Page 9 (that is incorrectly labeled page 5) is the Board's list of "Guiding Principles for Budget Decisions." Sherry explained at one point that this list is weighed with the first four items being very important but all the items are valuable. Here is item one:

Student achievement and academic instruction are the core of our work - a sustainable level of funding for our schools is essential to success and to allow innovation.

So you see that these are not in opposition to each other but staff wants to sustain the Strategic Plan work and the Board feels the work at the school level is more important. There is not money to keep both at the levels they are at now.

3 comments:

Central Mom said...

At the town hall mtg. w/ Rep. White, Carr and Maier, Rep. (now Sen.) White said something very interesting. He said he saw a variety of viewpoints in the room, from very-pro reform to anti-reform, and that he wasn't going to weigh in on the validity of the stances but that he DID need to caution that some of the reforms in the works at the state level are almost certainly slated for slowdown or cuts in the coming biennium due to severe funding issues.

If this is the state of the state, then extrapolate for yourselves one starting point for the district.

I for one will do everything in my power to be sure that the WSS formula is fixed for the coming year and that it is prioritized. Everything, and I do mean everything, comes second.

cascade said...

Good on you Central Mom.

Let there be rebellion if our classrooms are cut in favor of that bloviating document.

Remember the Soviet 5 Year Plans!!! From the Web: "The utter failure of the Five-year Plan was a combined product of the corruption of the Communist Party, the distrust of the peasants and the incompetence of the Russian government.

Extrapolate indeed. LOL.

Central Mom said...

Yes, well, I'm not laughing because the monetary situation is incredibly grim. But there is a time to be strategic and a time to be pragmatic. The coming year screams pragmatism. Keep the 5-year-plan in a happy glowing showcase downtown, cut central staff some slack for not being able to do everything because of necessary reprioritization of dollars, and return to it later. Meantime, fund those classrooms. Fund those academic interventions. Fund the ELL and SPED and APP and Spectrum programs. Fund our librarians and tutors. Fund our K8s. Fund our wrap-around social services. Educate ALL of our kids, and keep them safe, too.