I thought the purpose of the Budget Review Committee (BRC) was to review the details of the budget and make recommendations for cuts to the board. It seems the administration believes the BRC's purpose is to review a summary of the budget and assumptions and then select recommendations from a short list offered by the cabinet.
At this point, it really doesn't matter whether we get to look at the details or not, the main problem with this budget process is that none of our administrators truly understand the severity of the state budget. The district has taken the approach that we are in a temporary budget shortage and if each year we squeeze out a few dollars here and a few dollars there we will be able to survive until things return to normal. Folks, there is a new reality, this is normal. Comments from some of the administrators at Friday's BRC meeting indicated they believed once the economy turned around we'd all be ok.
The State of California is in such a deep financial hole that even with a strong economy, it may be 10 years or more before the state returns to annually increasing education budgets. In my opinion, this will never happen. Our administrators need to reconsider their strategy. They need to take a long term view and begin to make serious changes to the business plan.
The budget review committee is made up of all the major stakeholders: parents, community representatives, the administration, the board, the heads of each department, and the leadership from both unions. This is the group that should be involved in changing the business plan of the district. However, this group will never be able to make serious progress unless we are able to evaluate every detail and consider every option. It doesn't help when an idea is presented and one of the stakeholders immediately indicates it won't be approved by their constituents. I had some controversial ideas I'd like to propose last week but 15 minutes at the end of a meeting late Friday afternoon is not the best time to begin a serious discussion.
Two meetings ago, Assistant Superintendent of Business services, Mays Kakish spent all but the last 10 minutes presenting a report on the current budget picture. We were able to brainstorm for the last 10 minutes and, with no information to fall back on, we created a list of items up for consideration. In our BRC meeting on Friday, we spent an hour and 45 minutes of our two hours receiving another report of the budget and how it had changed since the last meeting. We had no time to discuss detailed items we listed from the earlier meeting.
Here are some things we should do to make the BRC a more useful resource.
1. We need to start with an agreement signed by all parties that we accept the budget "crisis" as the new reality and that we need to commit to a serious discussion of ALL the options and ONLY consider what is best for the students. (Without this, there is no reason to go any further)
2. Everyone must agree to check their personal feelings at the door in order to truly focus on our kids.
3. Meetings should not be held on a Friday night. We need to be focused on the budget and not how soon can we leave for our weekend.
4. All the materials to be discussed or presented should be emailed to the membership several days before the meeting is scheduled to take place.
5. Everyone will have time to review materials and should ask more relevant questions.
6. Specific information requests could now be made before the meeting. This would be possible if the members had a better idea of what was to be discussed in the upcoming meeting.
7. The majority of the meeting time should be used for the detailed review and discussion of the budget.
One last note......Another Empty Promise?
We learned today that the promise we have heard over and over from Assistant Superintendent of Business Mays Kakish not to cut any positions next year was assuming the budget assumptions don't change. I have been watching this budget process for three years now and have never seen any budget assumptions stay the same from one meeting to the next.
At the last board meeting, I was accused of being offensive when I claimed the administrators' offer last year to take furlough days on the condition that both unions also agreed to furlough days, was an empty promise. Kakish's promise not to cut any positions seems like another empty promise. This one hurts more since we never heard about the "as long as assumptions stay the same" qualifier until after the assistant superintendents locked in their own new three year contracts.