Headbangers Ball…

I’ve been attending school board meetings for longer than I care to remember.  There are meetings that you walk out of feeling all warm and fuzzy, meetings where you leave wanting to slay dragons, and meetings where you want to run screaming around the parking lot banging your head against the pavement.  Last night was a head banging sort of night.

The head banging worthy events began with the conversation about Zero Based Budgeting. After listening to Mr Cline’s presentation on Zero Based Budgeting I think it can be fairly stated that he’s not a fan.  Not even close.  In fact, I might even go so far as to say that Mr Cline appears to be of the mindset that Zero Based Budgeting is an idiotic waste of time.

I think it can also be fairly concluded that Mr Cline and his team have neither the attitude nor the aptitude necessary to lead the school division through developing a zero based budget and that the only recourse available to pursue a zero based budget is to hire external contractors, preferably under the direction of the Audit Committee as Mr Cline is so strongly opposed to zero based budgeting.  Since the Internal Auditor quit last March and hasn’t been replaced, that will give the Audit Committee something to do.

Why zero based budgeting?  Because it allows you to build your budget from the bottom up based on your priorities.  So for a school, each teacher would build a budget for his or her classroom based on what they need to do their job effectively.  Not figure out how to allocate resources based on the budget you’ve been given, but build a budget to provide you with  what you need to teach your students as effectively as possible.  If the school division’s priority is to ensure that no one class has more than 30 students in it and that any class with more than 25 students has a full time instructional aide assigned to it, then you build school budgets with that factored in.

Like Steve Keen said, zero based budgeting allows the school division the opportunity to step back, reflect on their core mission, and then determine if the programs and services they’re providing enhance or hinder that core mission.

Yes, that means programs some people love might be eliminated or curtailed.  PWCS may find that the middle school sports program can’t be supported, that some speciality programs aren’t working out, or they may expand certain speciality programs and allow regional transfers only, instead of across town.

Zero based budgeting gives the school board the opportunity to step back and evaluate what we’re doing to decide what programs to keep, expand, cut, or eliminate.  It is a tremendous opportunity for a school division that is on the precipice of collapsing to focus on its core mission.

A couple of other things….

The conversation from school board members was distressing last night in that the school board members who think the pool is a wise use of school division resources were the one’s complaining the most about scarce resources.  I had to wonder if they really did take education seriously or if they were in fact just reiterating words and phrases they knew would resonate with county residents.

Mrs Covington commented about the lack of space needed to decrease class sizes. She noted that we’re out of space, that the school division doesn’t have the money to keep up with building to meet our students needs.  She noted that everyone wanted to reduce class sizes, but said we don’t have the space to do that.  We don’t have the money to build schools fast enough to keep up with our growing student population to bring class sizes down, so we ought to build a pool?  Mrs Covington supports the school pool.

Mrs Jessie said that our first responsibility was for student learning and that the ideal class size was 20 students, or fewer.  She noted that achieving this would cost an enormous amount of money.  She noted that reducing class sizes was necessary, but that teachers needed to be trained to meet the new, more rigorous demands of the college and career ready standards.  She said the enhancing and improving student performance had to be what drives the budget.  Apparently Mrs Jessie believe that a pool will enhance student learning more than $1 million worth of teacher training each year, as she supports the school pool.

Dr Otaigbe said that from what he’s seen at Back to School nights and in conversations with administrators and teachers in his district, the issue isn’t how to allocate resources, but that we don’t have sufficient resources to do what we believe is necessary to help our children achieve academic excellence.  If we don’t have the resources to help our children achieve academic excellence now, how is spending $1 million a year on school pool going to help our children achieve academic excellence in a couple of years?  There is no magic money fairy. I know.  I’ve looked for her and she doesn’t exist.  Like Mrs Covington and Mrs Jessie, Dr Otaigbe supports the school pool.

Chairman Johns mentioned the cost of providing raises to faculty and staff and reducing class sizes.  He that the problems the school division faces, if we are serious about fixing them, are fundamental and structural.  He noted that the good times of the past just haven’t come back.  He said that the school division has to determine what its fundamental components are. He said if we are serious we have to look at our priorities for big ticket items or look at the revenue stream.  Chairman Johns is strong supporter of the school pool.  Apparently he believes operating a pool is one of the school division’s fundamental components.

How can these people complain that the school division lacks the financial resources needed to enhance student learning and help our children achieve academic excellence, but believe that a school pool is one of the school division’s fundamental components?

Both Mrs Satterwhite and Mrs Jessie brought up final points, though from different perspectives.  Mrs Jessie mentioned transparency and asked if the zero based budget was intended to enhance or improve transparency.  Mrs Satterwhite raised the concerns many people have with the school division’s budget, like salaries that are classified as DP Equipment and the things that are shifted from one budget account to another with no explanation.  Mrs Satterwhite said she believed the exercise was necessary to bring clarity to the budget.

They’re both correct.

Mr Keen said that many of our problems stem from the fact that we don’t have enough money.  He said that the BOCS approaches the budget differently than the school division does, that they don’t understand their budget or ours, and that this misunderstanding breeds mistrust.  He said that good decisions are driven by good data and competent analysis.  He said what we’re seeing here is good analysis.

Mr Keen is spot on!

Both the BOCS and School Board Chairmen have mentioned that a revenue adjustment may be necessary to ensure that our schools can fulfill their fundamental mission.  When they say revenue adjustment they mean tax increase.

I don’t trust the school division’s budget.  Too much has been hidden and, while we’ve gotten answers to our questions, they’ve come begrudgingly and with such disdain that it makes me wonder what else there is that we didn’t find.

We may need a tax increase to reduce class sizes and pay our teachers and staff the salaries they deserve.  As a parent with two children in the school system, I’m willing to accept a  tax increase, but ONLY if I’m assured that the school division is using every penny it gets wisely and that the extra money will be used to reduce class sizes and increase teacher and staff compensation.  I’m not convinced of that right now.

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4 Responses to “Headbangers Ball…”

  1. Ken Reynolds Says:

    PWC is better off with informed and concerned parents like you!! I believe however that the smartest way to achieve the results that ZBB could bring is to design a system – internally – that would work for our School System. And that is not to hire an outside consultant. Perhaps a public meeting at this time would give taxpayers a chance to air just what they want….Mr. Cline could design a system that would address taxpayers’ concerns………and go from there..

  2. pwceducationreform Says:

    That’s a good idea, Ken! I kept wondering why there wasn’t a work session or public hearing scheduled to discuss and better define the scope of a ZBB.

    • Ken Reynolds Says:

      The School Board normally holds 2 public hearings ……………….but as you point out so well………its too late in the game………………come to think of it…….the BOCS sets a tax rate……………and THEN holds public hearings and at that point, holdds hearings……..its like the schedules are set up to work AGAINST the taxpayer…Thank you for what you do!! Ken

  3. Tom Salmon Says:

    Two points.

    1. Ken makes a good point. Whatever kind of budget system is used, the school division’s financial department either has to buy in, or some people will need to be replaced.
    2. I noted you don’t trust the budget.

    I don’t trust the school division’s budget. Too much has been hidden and, while we’ve gotten answers to our questions, they’ve come begrudgingly and with such disdain that it makes me wonder what else there is that we didn’t find.

    Part of the reason for that is that the school division is just too large. Why do over 70,000 children have to be in the same school system?

    Consider the personnel issues. Depending upon the complexity of the task, the average person can effectively manage about a dozen people. Therefore, as an organization grows in size, we get more management layers. As a practical matter, the larger the school division, the harder it is to get rid of administrative overhead, and the easier it is to hide things from the people who should know.


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