Hold on to that thought, because I'm usually bitching up a storm here about how awful it is to be on the School Board. But not today. (I know. I am amazed as well.)
Here's a quick timeline:
2001: Chief Business Officer retires with a huge retirement bonus approved by the board for his many years of labor.
2002: a new Business Officer (CBO) is hired and discovers that we are $1.1 million in the hole but that without a legally mandated 3% cash reserve, we are in danger of being taken over by the state. Grand Jury investigates but determines that only incompetence led to the error, not embezzlement. The Superintendent announces her retirement at the end of the year.
2002-2003: The Board panics and starts cutting counselors, office staff, and tries to lay off teachers by increasing class sizes. Suisan gets mad.
November 2003: Suisan wins a seat on the School Board, coming in first in the election for two vacant seats. Suisan along with a polished former Vice-Mayor make up the minority. A new Superintendent is hired.
2003-2004: More cuts and dire predictions. We close an elementary school as a budget fix, with no guarantee that it will save us money. A faction of the community starts supporting only the CBO and her dire predictions. Any time the Board asks for details on her assumptions we are yelled at by parents for undermining "the finest woman I know." The CBO starts crying at meetings if her numbers are questioned. Suisan is very disgusted.
During this year, Suisan, Dear Butcher, and a chef-friend of ours start investigating the Cafeteria Fund. It is in deep debt, and the County demands that we transfer $700,000 from the General Fund every year for five years until the debt is paid off. What's the source of the debt? How can the Cafeteria program be more efficient? Can we sell off equipment? Can we renegotiate the amounts of the yearly transfers to spread it out?
2004-2005 More cuts and dire predictions, although we are beginning to slowly grow a reserve, just not enough of one yet. By January of 2005 the Board President, without authority from the balance of the Board, has told the Superintendent three times that the Board is just about to fire her. She gets the hint and announces her retirement. Suisan is quite sad at this development--I enjoyed working with her. Negotiations are so toxic with the teachers that we "go to impasse" which is the stage just before the teachers are legally allowed to go on strike. Goody. What could be better?
January 2005: We discover that the cafeteria operates completely in the black. The debt is only on paper. (long story.) We ask the CBO to ask the County to waive the debt.
April 2005: Crazy assed parents trained in "organizational psychology" host a two day Change Management Conference. What a freaking disaster. (Here's an early clue--all the Assistant Superintendents and Directors were pressured to attend, as were Board Members, the Police and Fire Chief, Councilmembers, and the Mayor, but the Superintendent was specifically not invited. Ummm.) Initially I refused to attend, but later decided I had to attend so that I would at least have a basis from which to criticize the results, if the conference fulfilled my gloomy expectations. Actually, this entire conference could be its own post, so I'll try to cut it short.
And at the end of the conference, our "Shared Values" were posted along one wall of the cafeteria. Not a SINGLE value, not a single one, had ANYTHING to do with education. The highest priority the conference reported out was that there should no longer be any more 3-2 votes on the School Board. Two freaking days worth of work so that the parents could tell me to switch my votes to align with the majority? The ones who were driving negotiations to impasse? The ones who REFUSED to talk about education? The ones who cried at meetings? (Yes, the one next to me started taking lessons from the CBO.) Watch smoke come out of Suisan's ears.
May 2005: The Board President holds an emergency special closed session meeting to say that the Superintendent search process is halfway completed, and that no viable candidates are showing up. Therefore, we need to immediately, tonight, promote the CBO to Superintendent-Elect (there isn't such a position) before she runs off and takes another job as a CBO in another district.
I made the biggest error ever, and agreed to vote for the damned thing. It was stupid, but I also knew that voting against it (3-2) wouldn't stop it. I still kick myself for caving on this one.
June 2005: The County Office of Education informs us that we cannot hire the CBO because she doesn't have a teaching credential--we can vote to waive the teaching credential requirement in open session, and then we have to revote for her appointment in open session, because voting for her in closed session without previously waiving the requirement is illegal. State law allows us to remedy the flaw by acting in open session. Oh goody. So at that time, I had my wits about me and voted against the whole shebang.
Budget of 2005 closes out with about a 1% reserve, but since we are trying to build the reserve, we are confusingly enough pulling money out of our "General Fund" to build up the "Reserve Fund", so we actually end the year with a negative balance overall but a 1% reserve. Yeah, I still don't get it completely. Multi-year projections indicate that by 2006-2007 we will be $2 million in the hole, and by 2007-2008 we will be $5 million in the hole. Parents are screaming bloody murder: We have to cut more! Break the unions! Reduce their benefits!
Spring 2005: The county comes to the School Board meeting to discuss our budget. In their report is their ongoing concern about the cafeteria fund. Turns out that no one has ever explained the source of the debt and that the CBO (now Superintendent) has never requested a renegotiation. She refuses to do so now. (long story.)
Fall of 2005: a School Board election wherein not only is the Former Vice-Mayor overwhelmingly re-elected, but also two other "good folks." We now have a 4-1 majority and the Vice-mayor guy is now the Board President. Things get ugly. We start demanding detailed analysis of the budget--I ask for three months for a report detailing Cafeteria Fund transfers after the Sup asks for a $180,000 transfer *into* cafeteria to pay salaries. (I thought it was operationally solvent. It is, but they need the money. Wha?) I never get the report. I asked four times and the Board President asked three times. Nothing.
2005-2006: Nasty nasty and more nasty. Rumors, investigations, people leaving the District right and left. We find $700,000 in overbudgeting for salaries. We find an additional $1 million in various funds throughout the budget which are transferred to the General Fund. We give all employees a big retroactive raise based on the monies in the General Fund and a larger one based on expected monies coming from the State for 2006-2007. The Sup starts relying on text messages on her cell phone to answer questions during meetings. Parents are still screaming: Don't give raises! Break the unions!
Summer of 2006: The Board buys out the Sup's contract. We discover that she had been on the paper screening committee during the Superintendent's search, and had belittled every candidate to the committee. When we then appointed her, the County actually ran an investigation to determine if she had broken the law through conflict of interest, but they never informed the board about the investigation until AFTER we bought her out. Hey. Thanks guys. A Board member resigns. We hire an elementary school principal to be our interim Superintendent.
Last night: A report on the 2005-2006 budget now that the CBO has closed the books for that year.
- We started 2005 with a $1 million positive balance and a 3% reserve. We ended the year with a $4.8 Million positive balance and a 3% reserve. Wha?
- CBO adds the cash value of the cafeteria's inventory to its balance, which we should have been doing all along, transfers out the controversial and unnecessary $180,000 transfer, and determines that this fund has an almost $180,000 positive ending balance.
- Along with lots of money coming in from the state for this year (the Guvernator wanted to be re-elected), we currently have a 12% reserve and are projected to end the year with about a 13% reserve.
CBO says that at least 3 million of that was in the budget the entire time. She found most of it when she put in the retroactive portion of the raise and found that some funds which were supposed to zero out actually grew. She had to take apart the entire budget line by line and put it back together again to find it all.
I cannot believe I have gone through all of this. Our current CBO won't say so, but she's coming really close to saying that money was intentionally hid throughout the budget. She said last night on TV, "I'm terribly sorry that the District had to go through all of this in the past few years. This shouldn't happen in any District."
Our student board member accused us of defaming the character of the former Sup, when she wasn't here to defend herself. (Well, YEAH.) He left the meeting.
I'm looking back now over everything I've gone through.
I feel sort of numb, actually.
I've got a huge sense of relief that I was on the right side the whole time, that the questions we brought forward were correct. I'm happy that we have hard data in the budget now to support our assertions rather than a persistent sense that I've been lied to again and again.
On the other hand, it's been so damn difficult to ride this wave that I'm not quite sure I know now what to do or what to feel. I think we did have some budget crisis in 2001 or 2002, but if there was $3.8 million in the budget as of 2005, I'm assuming that a lot of the cuts we made in 2003 and 2004 were completely unnecessary. That scares me somewhat. Was it only to break a teacher's union? (Windmills, anyone?) I can't quite get my head around the reason for it, to be honest.
I think I need more coffee.