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

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Board Meeting Highlights

Click on the post to see the agenda listing.

I got to the meeting at about 6:10, expecting the executive session to just be finishing and they were already finishing up with the Student learning results/year end goals, Item 7B on the agenda. Must have figured out those salaries and benefits a lot faster than I usually do.

Tina and Eric were missing from the meeting, but apparently Tina had a conflict and planned to arrive later.

I was sorry I missed the student learning results discussion, but there is a good summary in the administrators reports posted on the website. I'll write another post about that at a later date and include a link to the reports. It's 23 pages long, so be prepared.

Anyway, the business action items were soon underway. Right off the bat, they were talking about refinancing part of the debt, $1.14 million to be exact. The powers that be have restructured the ratings for schools to be similar to that of other businesses. The highest rating that can be achieved is AAA (Moody's). ECSD rating has been upgraded from A-3 to A-1. Click on the link below for a more thorough discussion of this rating system.


It seemed like there was a lot of work put into this re-fi, reducing our effective interest rate from 5.25% to 4.46% for the life of the bond (2021). Overall savings to the district over the life of the loan will be $31,829. While this seems a tad paltry considering the dollars we're talking about here, it's a new teacher salary (or so), not including benefits and perks. Well worth doing. AND it would not have been possible without the diligence and foresight of the board for developing, implementing AND FOLLOWING the fund balance policy 662.3 in 2007. Moody's specifically stated that efforts to increase our fund balance in recent years have improved our bond rating.

Which brings us back to the last post: Don't plan to spend more than you expect to earn in revenue. Continued deficit budgeting will raid this balance and diminish the district bond rating. Deb mentioned that since the meeting June 28th, the projected budget figures have improved by about $50,000 (I don't have the specifics). This brings the deficit down from about $136K to a mere $86K. I erroneously stated that they planned to spend only $50K more than they planned to get in revenue next year. The original plan in December was to spend nearly $200K more than they got in revenue. By June 28th, they had tweaked the budget to get that figure down to about $136K and now the deficit stands at about $86K. I reiterate: Planning to raid the fund balance every year to balance the budget is not a fiscally sound plan. It will come back to haunt the district and the taxpayers.

Next, they tackled the modified bell schedule at the high school, which was passed with Michael Pierick emphasizing that this must have dedicated staff to supervise bus students with no other way to school on those days.

The controversial discussion was about the Administrators Salary and Benefits changes approvals. This topic came up in the program based budgeting (PBB) process in February. It was suggested that the Administrators and the non-represented staff begin to contribute 5% to their Health Plans (or get 5% less cash in lieu, as the case may be). Apparently there was a 4-5% salary increase originally planned in the December budget with the standard district pay all health plans. By reducing the raises to 2-3% (2 for the Administrators, 3 for the admin. assists.) and requiring a 5% contribution to health plans, this ends up looking like a 16K savings from the original budget. That's how the District Office rearranged money to make it look like they reduced their budget to meet their 4% reduction plan. But do not be deceived! This still is costing the district 22K, which I emphasized when the plan was originally proposed during PBB. "But it's a savings from the original budget!" ARRGH! God save me from people who think like this.

Anyway, Dennis Hatfield echoed my own thoughts about this Houdini rearrangement of funds in this horrible economy. He thought everything should be frozen as it stands, with no salary increase and no 5% Health plan contribution. His point was that Doyle has asked all govt employees to make 10% cuts and even though he said schools were exempt, if there's no money, there's no money. Who knows what the per pupil reimbursement will be next year? Now is not the time for experiments, no matter how good intentioned.

I tend to agree with Dennis. I was even more Draconian than him. Give them no raise, ask for the 5% contribution. I see no purpose to ask for a 5% Health plan contribution and turn around and give them the money to pay for it. Bleed along with the rest of us, why don't you? Other ideas to float would be: "Whatever the school district is paying for your health plans now will be frozen for the foreseeable future. If the cost increases, you will incur that increase yourself. Your raises will not be considered any differently than before. We will not make sure the raise you get will cover whatever future increases may be seen for your health insurance." I was happy to see somebody carrying on the torch of rationality in this discussion in my absence. Also nice to see somebody else be the rabble rouser! Sadly, nobody else agreed with Dennis and the vote was 4-1 for the proposed changes. At least there is now an example of health plan contribution for future reference in the district.

The approval of the proposals for a HS Senior Project graduation requirement beginning with the class of 2014 was a lively animated discussion, with Nancy Hurley, Dennis Hatfield and Tina Rossmiller (who showed up just in time to discuss it!) thoroughly taking the administration to task for not answering the very specific questions and concerns they made clear at the June 28th meeting on the proposals. Specific questions include funding sources, grading rubrics, what happens if a kid doesn't fulfill the requirements, how can you make sure this is the kids' work and not their parents, how can it be equalized between students with means and students with no means, and many questions along those lines. The excuse was that they couldn't get the committee together because it was summer. Well, the board's message was loud and clear: Lack of planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on ours. That has been one of my favorite all time quotes since I heard it first as a young professional in my first job. It is universally applicable to any number of situations. The vote was 5-1 (Kathy Swanson) to table the topic until the questions and concerns of the board are addressed specifically in the proposal. Yay board.

All the other action items passed with unanimous votes.

The next meeting will be July 26th at 5:30 for the committee of the whole. The agenda isn't posted yet; I'll put it here when I see it.

Now wasn't that a more exciting read than those boring minutes you read on the school website? Not to mention more timely. But, nobody has to approve my version of the minutes.

Topics for future posts include student learning summary/district goals; Janesville School District has a summer musical, why don't we try this idea? Musings from a "recovering board member"; If you have any ideas regarding topics you'd like to see addressed here, please email me.

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