"High Achievement always takes place in the framework of high expectation." - Charles Kettering

Monday, July 26, 2010

7-26-10 Finance Meeting Highlights and Annual Meeting Date

I only stayed for the Finance section, which ended about 8pm. There are perks to not being on the board! Here's a list of Finance discussion items.

1) Middle School Dean of Students Options
2) Report From Education Foundation Conference
3) Transportation Contract
4) Open Enrollment Update
5) HRA – Other Non-Represented Groups
6) Request to Establish Fund 80 to Support Evansville Youth Center

The first budget item has to do with staffing and funding absences Mr. Flaherty anticipates during Mrs. Flaherty's surgery and recovery in November and December, as well as financing the extra work staff will do to cover his routine absences as they did last year. The surgery is expected to give Mrs. Flaherty greater independence and lead to a more routine schedule for Bob second semester. Mary is making such great progress and this surgery will likely take a burden of worry from Mr. Flaherty's shoulders. The proposals ranged in cost from $8-34K, which weren't concisely defined (budget wise) for the board. First choice in this list was an age-old "half-time MS Dean of Students" option (about $35K), sort of like Mr. Cashore for the MS. The board has been asked to fund this since Jerry Roth was principal over there. Since Mr. F expects to return to a more routine schedule by second semester and next year will be even more sparse economically, the "Dean of Students" option was quickly dropped as a serious solution. But Mrs. Hurley and Mrs. Swanson "don't want to lose sight of this idea for future reference." One scenario seemed like it should have the least amount of impact, but had a big price tag ($34-37K). It sounded like it was entirely composed of moving people around who were already accounted for in the current budget, which should have a null budgetary impact, except for subs to replace staff as they fill in for Bob's absences. There was general discussion that ended in placing this topic on the August 9th agenda. The board expects to have a complete budget impact defined by then so informed action can be taken. In this economy, I think it's safe to say the administration can anticipate that the board wants a complete, concise budget impact analysis every time there is a suggested change in expenditures or revenue.

Mrs. Hurley had an interesting report from the Education Foundation Conference in LaCrosse, which she went to in the midst of all the storms on Friday. That's dedication! Evansville has an Education Foundation already established and Nancy Hurley and Heidi Carvin have taken the initiative to get a group of people together to discuss implementing this fund further. A local finance guy has volunteered to help out and a meeting is planned for August 3rd at 4pm. Education Foundations help pay for things the State can't or doesn't cover, or supplement that which has been reduced due to budget cuts. She called it the "wave of the future." I guess they have to get money from somewhere!

The transportation contract has an overall 2% increase, but because there will be efficiencies and reductions in routes, the overall contract amount will be lower next year. A final version will be available as an action item at the August Business Meeting on August 9.

Now for the fun agenda item : Request for Fund 80 Establishment to Support the Evansville Youth Center. Fund 80 establishment essentially gives the school districts the freedom to exceed revenue caps by the budgeted amount for community activities NOT associated with educational endeavors. Translation: The district may raise your taxes as needed for Fund 80 activities without worrying about the revenue cap. As with any tax change, it must be presented at the annual meeting and be put to a vote of the general public there.

The Evansville Youth Center (EYC) is a perfect example of proper use of Fund 80 revenue. Three of the EYC board members and Mayor Decker presented to the school board. EYC board members present included Mrs. Dixie Moll, Mrs. James (I don't know her first name, but I should), and Mrs. Sandy Konkle. They began with Mrs. James giving a nice review and distributing handouts about the youth center. Mrs. Konkle gave a nice summary of positive changes in the community impression of the youth center and Mayor Decker gave an impassioned plea of poverty to the school board for help. I nearly hurt myself trying not to laugh out loud at this last tactic. Mrs. Hurley summed it up eloquently. "This is like us coming to you for money. What would you say if the school board came to you and asked for money in this economic climate?" The following impressions will seem to ramble (so what else is new,? most of you may be thinking), but it was certainly an interesting discussion and I wanted to give you my take on it.

The mayor has read the writing on the wall and expects the EYC to be hacked out of the city budget. It's currently funded at $27K or so a year from the city, but they're asking for $40K a year to fund it. Might as well go for broke if you're putting the tax albatross around somebody elses' neck. That's exactly what the city is trying to do. Mayor Decker doesn't want to raise taxes on the city only because the per household amount would be greater than if it is spread out over the whole district. The volunteers stated that some of the kids who use the center do come from outlying areas and are bussed home, so expanding the tax base is fair.

Mrs. Moll addressed the discrepancy between their current budget and the requested budget as being a result of not having enough funding this year to be open as much as they wanted. There are many great ideas and a lot of positive energy coming from these tireless volunteers. But they are being manipulated by Mayor Decker with threats to cut the EYC out of the city's budget. When the question of who would maintain the building come up, Mrs. Decker immediately said that the city would do so. How does she know how much money she will have and how much it will cost? Mrs. Rossmiller rightly challenged this nebulous arrangement. The devil is in the details. While discussing this aspect of the idea, it was asked by Mr. Pierick if appointment of the board of directors would change from a city responsibility to the school board's responsibility. Mayor Decker nearly broke her arm patting herself on the back for the great job she did in appointing vibrant community leaders to the board (they are great people), as if issuing a challenge to the school board for questioning her authority in this manner. But if she's ceding financial responsibility, she's ceding the power too. I don't think she gets that part of it. Questions about who would employ the staff and much more were still very unsettled and not thought through sufficiently. The clear problem from the board's perspective was lack of a handle on what the scope of this entailed, and the fact that they are already in a deficit situation.

Mrs. Decker tried to pull even more heartstrings by describing the financing the city got in 2005 that was back loaded bonds and will place a bigger burden on the taxpayers going forward. Been there, done that, already there, Mrs. Mayor. The school district is in exactly the same predicament. You are asking for blood from a turnip. Good luck with that. I pity the city of Evansville taxpayers in about 3-4 years. They will be supporting back-loaded bonds both at the city and the school district levels. Just hand the tax assessor your December paycheck and then some.

Finally, as I stated in my comment to the board, this is beyond robbing Peter to pay Paul. The amount they're asking for this year would be $20K, which is assesses at 3 cents per $1000 value of home, or about $4.50 tax increase on a $150,000 home. That's just for THIS item. Next year, it would raise to 6 cents per $1000 of property value. The fiscal years differ between the city and the school district so the EYC is funded through Dec. 31, 2010. The the 20K they're asking for in the Fund 80 budget is only for half the year, Jan-June, 2011. The Fund 80 would have to come before the public again next year to approve the $40K for July 2011-June 2012.

Our current mill rate is $10.49 per $1000 of property value. Deb stated tonight that they expect to have to increase taxes this year to cover the shortfall in the budget, both ours and the state's. Those pesky back-loaded bonds are starting to make issues for us already. The city's asking the district to increase the mill rate by approximately 0.3% this year and 0.6% next year for one item only, with only a vague idea of who will handle what fiscal responsibility.

They finally got around to addressing the delicate issue that the youth center primarily serves youth at risk. There has been a big push this year to integrate kids from all socioeconomic spheres in youth center activities, and they have been very successful. Everyone benefits from this arrangement, it's true, but the youth center represents physical safety for children at risk who might otherwise be hungry, disenfranchised and have no place to go. These are the kids who benefit in a very concrete, basic needs way. Those presenting to the board gave anecdotal evidence that when the youth center is unexpectedly closed, trouble soon follows. Some of these kids, when left to their own devices, often find socially unacceptable, destructive outlets for their unsupervised time. This made me think about why I never let my own kids go to the center, though I have known of it's existence from the beginning.

Mrs. Moll said she thought a big problem with the center was lack of advertising, that she didn't even know the youth center existed and she has seven kids. I knew about it long ago as well as the scary reputation that went with it. I never let my kids hang out there because of that. I can't be the only parent who thinks that way. So I see the EYC problems as being two fold: poor advertising and poor reputation. The EYC's new board is trying to address both sides of the problem, for which they are to be commended.

I'm very glad to see the direction the youth center is taking. That does not change the bleak reality of the district budget and every other school budget in the nation. Does the mayor even read the paper? I am still completely amazed at the chutzpah of Mayor Decker to come crying to the school district, of all places, pleading poverty and inability to support this noble project. If the problem behavior associated with closing the youth center are as dire as they predict from their own stories, maybe the Mayor should realize that funding $30-$40K for the youth center next year will save a lot more in police and court costs to send the kids to the clink, not to mention the costs to incarcerate them. That's on her budget and the county's budget, not the school district's.

At one point in the meeting, Nancy Hurley tried to explain how strapped for cash the school district was after the brutal rounds of cuts that have been made over the last 2 years. She illustrated it by explaining that we can't even provide summer enrichment programming for little kids anymore. Mrs. Konkle asked why they had to lose programming for the bigger kids simply because the little kids didn't have it anymore. Mrs. Hurley was not stating that since little kids didn't have summer programming, bigger kids' programs should be cut too! She was trying to ask where in the world they thought the district would get this money after cutting everything to the bone. The district had to cut out summer enrichment 3-4 years ago. This year they seriously considered proposing each family supply a ream of copy paper, for goodness sake. The school district currently has proposed a deficit budget anywhere from $80-130K, after making cuts of about $200K in March and expecting no increase in per student reimbursement and taking into account SAGE and Title I cuts endured this year. Somebody isn't living in the real world.

So I say to you good citizens of the ECSD: The Annual Meeting is once again upon us. It WILL be August 23 at 7 pm. Set aside time now to come and be heard. This could be part of that agenda. Any tax increase is part of that agenda. You even get to vote on the board's salary! The budgets will be published the week before the meeting in the Review. Mark your calendars now, come and cast your vote. EVERY CITIZEN OF THE SCHOOL DISTRICT MAY SPEAK AND CAST A VOTE AT THE ANNUAL MEETING. Now, that being said, the final vote is up the the school board when the mill rate is set in October once the third September count is official and the final state reimbursement is known and put into the budget. But what good politician votes for a tax increase against the wishes of their constituents? I suppose that's a stupid question. Dennis Hatfield and I alone voted against raising taxes at the last annual meeting: 2 lone votes amongst the sea of school staff and board members. Look where that got me. Maybe I'm misreading the good citizens of Evansville and all the complaints I got from disgruntled taxpayers. Maybe my vote against raising our taxes last August was my downfall because everybody does want a 10% increase in their tax levy. I don't think so.

If you are complacent, they will raise your taxes again. The usual cast of characters who show up for these meetings are teachers, administrators and the school board. Maybe 20 in all, but a stacked deck if ever there was one. Most of those people vote for the tax hikes as it's in their own best interest. We're going to have to attend in numbers to balance the vote. (As an aside, I do wonder how many of those people actually live in the city of Evansville and are subject to the double whammy of high city taxes and high school taxes? I'd love to see a break down of the percentage of staff and administration who live in the city of Evansville and in the outlying townships). Even if the tax levy is frozen by vote on August 23, the board might later be forced to raise taxes because of state shortfalls. Or they would have to decimate the fund balance they worked so hard to build up over the last 4 years and which was directly responsible for improving the terms of their partial refinancing last month. That option isn't likely now that the board has seen what good can come of increasing the fund balance. If you don't show up to vote, you've lost an opportunity to be heard. Also, you have no right to complain about it later. That's Melissa's Personal Tax Payer Philosophy. So show up on August 23 at 7 pm and sweat with me. Make them sorry they ever changed that blinking hot class room into a board meeting room. Spill out into the halls and be heard!


Anonymous said...

Maybe you got voted off the school board because of another issue!

Anonymous said...

The mayor needs to get her priorities straight. First of all what was she thinking going to the school board for money? Any one that has been paying attention knows they do not have any money.

It's funny what the mayors priorities are, I would like her to tell us how much money has the city committed to the Senior center yet, she wants to cut a measly 30k for something that benefits the kids.

How much has the city put into this Senior Center? What have they pledged?

It's all about priorities and hers are screwed up.

Anonymous said...

Reputation of the youth center? I have found only positive things coming from this center. At least this group of people in trying to do something to help the kids. It's a lot more than I can say for some people in this town.

Katy said...

Thank you all for your comments.

I'm sure there are many reasons I got voted off the school board! I just find it ironic that one of the two people who voted against raising taxes even higher was voted off the board. "Our taxes are ridiculously high!" is one of the top complaints I heard for three years as a board member. When we moved here from Brookfield, WI, our taxes tripled. I guarantee you our services did not.

I still don't know what the mayor was thinking, but it's a mystery to me where she thinks the money will come from.

Finally, the EYC board members were the ones who brought up the public nuisance problems that coincided with unexpected closure of the youth center. It was a natural extrapolation that the perpetrators were a small subset of kids who utilize these facilities. That combined with unsavory activities associated with the center five years ago prompted the scary reputation remark. It was true in the past, but it's improved greatly in the last year, according to the EYC board itself. It's clear that the current EYC board has worked tirelessly to turn this around and to make the center an inviting and safe place for the youth of Evansville. As I noted, they are to be commended for this hard work.
I support the EYC and their community outreach.

Having said that, this is just one more social service that government entities are trying to thrust onto the schools through one massive guilt trip. Wave the "We may have to close the youth center" flag in a room full of sympathetic educators and they will feel the pain. The government has already scapegoated schools into providing numerous social services in the guise of "this infrastructure must be in place in order for education to be effective, therefore the onus of cost lies with the school district." What was originally intended to be cost sharing eventually became fully on the school districts' budgets to provide.

I don't think now is the time for the city to ask the ECSD to provide even more social services. The result of closing the youth center will likely have a direct hit on the city's budget as they step up police and court presence to deal with the fall-out, which they themselves are predicting. The city needs to think of funding that center as an investment against such eventualities instead of trying to increase the programming through a Fund 80.

Anonymous said...

Frankly Melissa I think there are as many pro's as there is con's to you not being on the board at this point.

I know people know you are very knowledgeable of the topics, I think that scares some people.

Know one knows it better than you. I am not saying sitting board members do not know it as as well as you do. But they have nothing on you.

The biggest pro for the community is you are willing to explain things. But anyone who knows you, knows you always have been willing.

This blog is wonderful. You explain things so well and give people a better understanding of what some of the more serious school district issues are , and you explain them well.

I also think this blog keeps you in the loop and ready to take a run at it again the next time around.

Keep up the great work.

Katy said...

Thank you kindly for those words. I do feel like I have a chance to speak a bit more bluntly than I could if I were still on the board. But I would have said many of the same things to the mayor's face as I did on this blog had I been on the board when she came begging for money. But never as effectively and as classily as Nancy Hurley. You go girl!