Time for a New Budget Review Process

I spent a little time listening to the audio minutes from last Friday's special board meeting, so you don't have to. Mrs. Kakish, Assistant Superintendent of Business, presented the Second Interim budget report during the meeting.

As far as I understand, this is a report all school districts are required to present to the County Board of Education. It provides a three year view of the district's budget. If there are any years in the report that show a budget deficit, the district has to provide a plan of how the deficits will be covered.

The presentation and discussion on Friday would probably put most people to sleep but I did find something interesting to come out of the discussion. Mrs. Poulter continues her insightful questioning. She wanted to know if the individuals in the district who were actually using the resources the district is spending our money to purchase were having any direct influence on the budgeting process. I am paraphrasing her words here. She tried to get the answer from Mrs. Kakish several times and, as far as I could tell, she never got a direct response.

I can answer this for her. The answer is no. Mrs. Kakish pointed out that the managers of the district's major departments are all represented on the Budget Review Committee and implied the people Mrs. Poulter was asking about are therefore involved. I have sat in on many BRC meetings I can tell you there is very little involvement by anyone other than the administration in the actual planning and decision making. Take a look at my earlier posts regarding the budget review process and you will find the administration brings their list of recommendations and asks the BRC to prioritize the administration's list. Any one who wants to provide their own ideas and options is required to debate their position with Mrs. Kakish and the ideas usually die there.

I suggest Mrs. Poulter read my earlier posts regarding Zero Based Budgeting, ZBB, here's a link: /blog/2010/10/11/zero-based-budget-strategy-is-it-right-for-beaumont.html.

The current budget process starts with last year's budget and then looks for ways to "tweak" it. It looks for programs and services that can be trimmed or eliminated. This is a top down approach and puts all the power in the administration. The ZBB strategy starts with a zero budget and requires the district's groups or departments spending the money to justify each and every expense. This is more involved and time consuming than our current process but it forces all the departments to look at each and every allocation of funds. It is a bottom up approach and spreads the power and ownership to reduce our budget to all stakeholders.

I am looking forward to the possibility that a new Assistant Superintendent of Business may take a new look at the budget review process. Unfortunately I don't expect there to be much change in Dr. Kayrell's strategy. The direction for change will need to come from our elected board members. I think we need to show our support for board members who are asking the difficult questions. This is the kind of leadership we need.

In the next few years, we will be asked to make some more difficult sacrifices. We should tell our board and administration we aren't willing to make any more sacrifices until every expenditure is reviewed and justified by all our district's department managers.