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

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Union Question 5

Q5.   Where would you look for new revenues?  What criteria will you use when faced with budgetary cuts?

Achieving a new revenue source for public education has limited options. The revenue cap was decimated two years ago and only had a slight increase this year. The governor has frozen the cap at current levels until 2015. The only realistic way for the district to increase revenue under these circumstances is by increasing enrollment. The open enrollment data for the district has become increasingly problematic over the last six years. The net loss of enrollment from open enrollment has increased from 3 in 2006 to 43 this year. The cumulative loss in revenue amounts to over $838,315, eerily similar to next year’s projected shortfall of $840,000.
Increasing enrollment must be approached using a balancing act to work within the framework of the current facilities’ capacities. The community is adamant about being unwilling to face another referendum any time soon. But even if the district only achieves a net zero change due to open enrollment next year, that would add about $280,000 in revenue. This goal would require a concerted effort on the part of every district employee and board member to actively promote the district. It would be of enormous help to know which group or groups to target that would maximize results. Once we recapture that lost enrollment, we must walk the talk of excellence to keep them here. It’s a buyer’s market out there and people will go to great lengths to get their children an outstanding education, as evidenced by the 85 people who are willing to spend considerable time and resources to send their kids to schools outside of this district.

The ultimate goal of the visioning process a few years ago was to create a community oriented District Strategic Plan to help guide the many decisions and oft-times difficult choices the board must make. With the retirement of Ms. Carvin and the hire of Mr. Roth, this project was put on the back burner. I believe the district’s lack of a Strategic Plan makes the board and the administration vulnerable to making hasty, reactionary decisions imposed by the political issue du jour. It detracts from the board’s true goal of working in collaboration with all stakeholders to attain its Vision of excellence. To solve this issue, I would encourage the board to use the data collected at the many public listening sessions during the visioning process to complete a Strategic Plan for the district to help guide them in both good times and bad.

In the absence of a strategic plan, the board urged the administration to define the cut criteria early in the budget process in anticipation of a substantial shortfall. The administration proposed and the board approved on January 28, 2013 a document entitled “ECSD Budget Development Process 2013-2014.”  It provides sort of a triage procedure to best preserve functions serving the life sustaining organs of the district, the kids. I have reproduced most of the document below to facilitate my comments.

“Budget Reduction Principles
The Board of Education and the Administration have established a set of guiding principles that will shape options available to the District to prudently manage a reduced operating budget for next year.
Budget Reduction Principles
1. Act in alignment with District Mission/Vision
2. Address sustainability: both financial and programmatic
3. Consider attrition and realignment in staff reductions rather than layoffs
4. Staff in alignment with enrollment
5. Focus college and career ready instruction over other instruction
6. Implement program delivery efficiencies vs. program elimination
7. Assess program or activity elimination where multiple data sources support (e.g. enrollment, class
8. Reduce or freeze non-instruction budget centers before instructional
9. Reduce where trends/data warrant in large budget centers (e.g. salaries, benefits)
10. Engage in good faith decision making based on multiple data sources (e.g. budget listening sessions,
online comments, survey responses)

Process for evaluating budget expenditures – The Administrative Team will review each expenditure using the principles from above for building the 2013-2014 Budget”

I agree that such a document is essential to help make “the best bad decisions” to paraphrase the movie Argo. I also agree with the philosophy to minimize negative impact to students embraced by the document. The board and the administration have done their best to minimize the impact of the harsh economy on the students in our district by using a similar approach for the last two years. This approach is necessary but does not inspire confidence that the district can achieve its Vision of excellence in all areas of education. Three consecutive years of financial deficits approaching or exceeding a million dollars have left only grim choices to make unless revolutionary ways of doing business are discovered.

Albert Einstein once defined insanity as continuing to do the same thing over and over again and expecting a different outcome. The district has investigated a number of ways to plow new ground. The staff and administration are evaluating insurance plans to save substantial money. A new Handbook is being implemented that may result in savings. It’s possible to increase enrollment by discovering and providing or enhancing services to groups as yet to be identified. I would add one more idea to that list. It is not a new idea but a reevaluation of an old idea:  explore a return to the traditional seven-period instructional day. Studies consistently indicate a savings of 5-10% can be achieved while continuing to provide identical class offerings. The data also suggest that student achievement could improve under a block schedule, but it’s inconsistent and requires further scrutiny. After the last few years, the district must be brave enough to explore new frontiers to achieve the magnitude of savings necessary to balance the budget while striving toward instructional excellence.

(1)   http://www.ecsdnet.org/subsites/Doreen-Treuden/documents/2013-2014%20Budget%20Information/ECSD%20Budget%20Development%20Process%20for%202013-14%201-28-2013.pdf

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