I went to a school-district-sponsored community budget forum last night. Yes, yet again we are out of money and facing big cuts. I haven't been paying a LOT of attention to school budget stuff, and I always learn the stuff better when it's presented to me in person, so I toddled down to the elementary school to stand in the back and soak it up.
There was a City Council member there -- he whispered in my ear, "Getting all misty-eyed for this stuff?"
"Smart lady. These people scare me."
"Staff? Or public?"
"Geez, no. The school mommies. They'll rip your heart from your chest in a moment."
When I was on the board (03-07) we had a budget of about 33 million which went down to 31 million at one point. We learned later that the 31 million dollar figure was never an accurate number, so we were mostly at 33. It was rough. We had no director of Human Resources, Curriculum, Maintenance, or Technology. We had no accountant, no payroll technician. (These folks need to sign off on each other's work -- since we didn't have them we had one person doing the work and signing off that she had audited it. Ummm.) We had no counselors at the middle school, half the recommended amount at the high school and we were missing I think one or two VP's at the high school. Oh yeah, at one point we didn't even HAVE a principal at the high school. Seems to me that 33 million was not quite enough money to run the district. At 31 things were getting stupid.
Total budget now is around 36 million, just shy of 37. Lots of cuts came down last year, and now the district has to trim an additional 2.4 million this year. I dunno. I must be a mean person, but I don't have a tons of sympathy for the levels of drama I saw last night. Cutting 2.4 from 36 is NOT the same story as cutting 2.4 from 33. Take a chill pill, folks.
Xenophobes were out in force last night. "How many kids from other towns do we let in to our schools? They don't pay taxes here. We shouldn't let them in. They cause behavior problems."
Superintendent: "Out of 5,000 kids we currently have 124 interdistrict transfers. To come here, they have to apply to their home district to be released, and they we have to decide if we'll take them. They have to sign a behavior contract and a GPA maintenance contract. If they don't fulfill those requirements, we can negate the transfer. So they DON'T cause behavior problems and we're very pleased to have them here. If they weren't here, we wouldn't have the money they bring with them."
This did NOTHING to appease our hometown racists. Not a thing.
Other controversy was that at a meeting that I watched on television, the school board voted to adopt a policy which would offer health care coverage to school board members. Also the school board voted to give itself a $240/month stipend. All the current school board members are self-employed, and are having difficulties getting to all the committee meetings and traveling, etc. I acutally saw TWO meetings where the health care coverage was discussed, on TV, publicly. Both times the entire board said that none of the current members would take health care because they get it elsewhere, but that they wanted the policy enacted to bring this board into parity with other government agencies in the county. So basically, it costs the district nothing. The stipend is there, but they lowered it from $300 to $240 this year. Still amounts to very little.
HOWLING from the audience. "Why weren't we TOLD?" The superintendent answered that it was at a public meeting. Not good enough. "How can we KNOW what you are going to be talking about? I volunteer ALL my time here at this school and I don't get paid! It's not FAIR!"
Jesus Freaking Christ. It's a public meeting that's televised. What did you want? An invitation? The agendas are on the website. The minutes are on the website. If I had had a tomato in my pocket, I would have thrown it at the woman.
I did put up on the white piece of paper my two ideas for economizing, the same two I put forward every other year. So maybe they'll get discussed by the board, since no one else in the room put anything up there. Yay me. Woo. I participated.