Lean Schools Budget Does Best We Can In Current Climate

Last Wednesday, our Board of Education put the finishing touches on what is a lean spending plan for the coming fiscal year, but one which I believe serves our students and employees as well as possible given the current economic climate.

We have provided a 1 percent one-time pay increase for every one of our dedicated employees and avoided the furloughs we were forced to impose this past year while other public agency employees in the county received raises and incurred no furloughs. We have cut elsewhere in our budget to provide funding for the continuance of programs such the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) magnets at North County and South River high schools and the Performing and Visual Arts magnet program at Bates Middle School.

We have allocated money for a new elementary school reading series, replacing the current Open Court program that is nearly a decade old.

Despite statements from a variety of venues to the contrary, the fact is that we have been able to do these things because of a series of difficult but courageous decisions we have made over the last several years. We have shed 150 non-school-based positions, are in the third year of a hiring freeze, and, for the last two years have not awarded performance pay to senior or executive staff members.

We did not add any general fund positions across our system this year, and do not plan to do so in the coming year. This has caused our class sizes to increase, but average class sizes still fall below our target ratios. There is no question that we would like to see smaller class sizes and more program enhancements.

On the capital side, we also would like to be able to implement a more robust construction program that will upgrade more of our aging schools and chip away at our $1.5 billion maintenance backlog. That, however, is not the economic reality with which we must deal.

Our cuts have enabled us to avoid the large-scale layoffs and other drastic measures other school systems and public agencies – not to mention private companies – are undertaking. And while we may not be in the position we would like to be, we are in a far better position than others because of the prudent and proactive measures we have taken over the course of the past three years.

Even as we chart the course for the year ahead, we must keep an eye on the future. The economic forecast for Fiscal Year 2012 is cloudy at best, and with the federal stimulus funding set to expire after next year absent any reappropriation, we are likely to face a dramatic shortfall.

Our duty in the budgeting process continues to be to advocate for what we feel is necessary to meet the needs of our students and help them achieve. The County and the State are the funding authorities, and we must work within the constraints they set.

While we have been criticized for stating our needs, it would be derelict to artificially paint a rosier picture than truly exists simply to avoid difficult discussions and decisions at the funding authority level. We have an obligation to do everything we can to provide the best environment we can for our students and employees, and will continue to do so.

Category: OPINION

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