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

Friday, June 21, 2013

No School Board Meeting Until the End of July: Create a Strategic Plan, ECSD!

Having a six week gap between School Board meetings at the end of the fiscal year is an unusual development for the ECSD school board. It has not occurred in the seven years since I have been scrutinizing school board activities. There has always been a meeting the last week of June to close the fiscal year and to pass a preliminary budget. Due to the inability of the administration to present an acceptable budget to the board last year, there wasn't a working budget model going into the new fiscal year in 2012. That failure forced the administration to bring every significant expenditure to the board for approval until a preliminary budget was approved in mid-July. Since they were facing a deficit situation, it was certainly something the board should have been overseeing anyway. The administration was less than pleased by what they perceived as the board "second guessing" their professionalism. That topic is a post in and of itself. This year the district has circumvented the established process by not having the "end of fiscal year close-out meeting." I have a feeling that these meetings were a waste of time anyway. Too many variables comprising the budget remain volatile in June. The final expenditures aren't set in stone until June 30, so trying to extrapolate for the board the exact results for the end of the fiscal year is a waste of the business manager's time, the board's time and the administration's time. As for significant expenditures between July 1 and whenever the final budget is adopted (October 31 is the drop dead date, methinks), they should be dealt with on an as needed basis anyway in lieu of an adopted budget.

This new process seems to be a win-win-win for everyone. It could lead to less community outcry because there will be fewer unfounded budgetary "crises." There are sufficient economic challenges for the district without manufacturing crises due to budgetary unknowns at the state level. Take a breath. The backdoor deals going on at the state level right now could produce between 90 and 270 thousand dollars in additional revenue for the district (between $50 and $150 per pupil increase in revenue cap). Of course, this all depends on the ones in charge keeping their end of the bargain, for which I shan't hold my breath. The levels of vindictiveness and immature "payback" demonstrated at all levels by those in charge staggers the mind. There is no longer even the hint of trying to present an equitable facade. On one level, it's refreshing to see that rare bird of truth in politics. It's just so damned infuriating that the focus of their substantial efforts has been ultra-conservative policy as opposed to significant economic improvements. Indeed Gov. Walker, indeed. It's patently obvious that you are more concerned about a presidential bid in '16 than in the economic health of Wisconsin.

The political upheaval which has enthralled public employers has especially rocked the Evansville Community School District because of its lack of a long term strategic plan. All successful businesses have strategic plans. A strategic plan is the compass to guide leadership in wise decision making. Such plans create a route to achieve the vision and are regularly revisited to make sure all parts of the company are aligned. The considerable time and effort put in by the board, the community and the administration to create the vision two years ago needs to be honored. The end goal of that process was not the vision statement but rather a strategic plan. Development of the plan was thwarted first by Act 10, then by Heidi's retirement and then by Jerry's hire. A strategic plan would have helped dampen the magnitude of the winds of change. The leadership would have had a clear path by which to achieve the vision of excellence. This in turn would have minimized the knee jerk reactions the district made while being buffeted from crisis to crisis for the last two years. With no lodestone, the board had to make decisions based on administrative recommendations, an administration that was lame duck for a year followed by one that was led by a rookie for a year. Strategic plans are valid in both times of want and in times of plenty. Just as a plan can shelter areas of community core values in times of trouble, it can enable a district to focus spending in flush times in order to reach the vision of excellence. Now is the time, ECSD. Go forth and strategize!

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