The official press release from Jerry Roth is linked here: ECSD Press Release. Mark your calendars now if you plan to attend the public listening session next week, April 18 from 6:30-8 PM in the TRIS LMC. Let the administration and the board hear the voice of the community.
There are some philosophical questions that might help you prepare to provide feedback at the meeting. The first one is: Should the District strive for a balanced budget at this point in the cycle? Many factors are as yet unknown. It irks me to the core of my being when public entities plan to spend more than they make, so my answer is always yes on this one. However, a brief tour of the last four budgets for ECSD will show that there's a lot of slop built into a budget and it can easily swing plus or minus $100,000. Seems unfathomable to we who could pay for our kid's ENTIRE college education with that "slop," but it's true. Two of the last three years showed deficits at this stage of the budget process and ended up surpluses of about the same magnitude (a swing of about $150,000). Last year was the year the board promised to pay the $672K deficit from the fund balance and three long term sick leaves reduced that deficit to "only" about $160K. So, I'm willing to amend my former unyielding "No deficit budgets" to "Within a half a percent, or about $100,000," as my personal line in the sand.
Another question to ask yourself, as did the board and administration, is how do you prioritize what must be cut, because believe you me, barring some kind of miracle, cuts must be made. Strange as it was to me the first time I experienced this pain as a board member, this isn't as straightforward as one would think. Education means different things to different people. It means "the three Rs" to some while others believe strongly in the "educate the whole child" concept (mental, physical and social). So prioritizing within the curriculum to meet an entire community's needs is close to impossible. One can, however, believe in a fairness and whole picture approach equally applicable in times of famine and plenty.
Last year, the board took the administrative team to the woodshed for looking to cut curricular positions to the tune of about 13% while co- and extra- curricular activities budget saw only a 2.5% cut. The preliminary budget was not approved until after July 1, making everyone cranky because they had to come to the board to vote on all expenditures until the preliminary budget was approved. The HS principal mentioned "equal isn't necessarily fair" and proceeded to pontificate that the curricular budgets had seen years of plenty when the activity budgets were stagnant. And of course that was the time when Bob Flaherty decided to tell the board why the administration established this sacred cow. "We all learned our lesson from Brodhead!" You all remember that ignoble moment when Brodhead threatened to cut ALL activities. Once the powerful sports conglomerate in our district got hold of that analogy, they've been like a dog with a bone, continuing to proliferate this false representation DESPITE THE FACT THAT THE BOARD REPEATEDLY TOLD THEM THAT NOBODY WAS TALKING ABOUT CUTTING ANYTHING. Finally, board members just quit trying to correct their inaccurate propaganda because, "why waste my breath?" This continues to this day. (As evidence, please refer to the February 27 co- and extra-curricular committee report presented to the board. Halina Zakowicz wrote an excellent article for the Review summarizing the findings of the committee and was criticized by administration because it sounded like she said the committee proposed laying off one teacher to keep all the activities. In fact, the administration proposes to lay off over 10 instructional positions in its vaunted Option 2 without touching the co- and extra-curricular budget. I guess she wasn't so wrong after all, was she? Ah, but don't let those pesky little facts and data get in your way. Just be indignant and make it seem like your precious sacred cows are being threatened by the mean old school board and EH VOILA! Let the caving begin). But I digress from the topic at hand. I'm sure you're all just shocked at that. Anyway...
I interjected myself into the question of the "equal vs. fair" can of worms that Everson opened during round 1 of the "cut teachers but not our activities" debate because they made a reference to my participation on the original committee reviewing contracts in that area. Since I did all the contract comparables for the first committee in 09 and had exact figures for how much of an increase the co- and extra- curricular activity contracts had enjoyed since that time (15%), I took exception to his uninformed remarks. I noted that I was not in possession of the data for the curricular side of the equation, but I highly doubted that the salaries for teachers from 09-12 had increased by 15%. I was even nice, noting that Scott could be excused for being uninformed about this since he was hired right after the committee implemented the new salaries to make our district competitive with its conference mates.
Add to this travesty of justice the willingness of the teachers to reopen their contract last January after the CPI of 3% threatened to shut down the budget before it even got started. They took about a million dollars worth of concessions and the district cut another $600K in expenditures, including teacher lay-offs due to declining enrollment and economies in other areas. And still we arrived at this January staring down the maw of another near million dollar deficit next year simply by factoring in a set of realistic increases in salary, benefits, utilities and whatnot. Then the dear old Guv took away the piddly $50 per kid increase in revenue cap everyone had put into their budgets and we found ourselves $90K more in hock than we had been before that little nugget of information was released.
No matter what model the administration uses to arrive at its various budget forecasts, the ECSD is in deep fiscal trouble. In the midst of both of the discussions of the administration's latest budget recommendations, Dennis Hatfield remarked, "I notice there are only instructional positions being cut." Finally, at the April 8 meeting, he suggested that he was looking for shared sacrifice across the board. I am completely on that bandwagon. As I said at the April 8 meeting and what needs to be repeated ad infinitum, ad nauseum: "Where's the excellence?" This district can do better and those of you with ideas should share them. Be persistent and do not be put off by the usual response of "We can't do that because..." Our district has the instructional talent to be on the cutting edge of area education, but with administrative decisions that whittle away at the core of that talent, the options have been reduced to a rock and a hard place. Come out and let your voices be heard and give your best for our district!