Thursday, July 28, 2005

July 28, 2005 When is a "cut," not a cut?

A recent July 26th story in a local newspaper was headlined "Director: No budget, no school." The story went on to say that the school budget had been "cut" about $1 million dollars.

So when is a "cut" not really a cut?

When you ask for $4 million dollars of new funding and you get $3 million of new funding instead---and that is what the proposed 05-06 school budget provides ($3 million in new state and local funding).

I would love to have a "cut" like that any day of the week. You probably would, too. Suppose you go to your boss and ask for a $4/hour raise and you get a $3/hour raise instead...are you going to go to your fellow employees and complain and tell them that you got a pay cut? Probably not, because in fact you got a pay RAISE of $3/hour.

Another item in the story reported that the school system was only able to add 1.5 teachers last year due to last year's "shortage of funding." Well, the state BEP school funding formula last year showed that funding calculations were based on 14 new teachers. Obviously, 14 new teachers were not hired. So where did that money go?

A lot of people, including the public, teachers, and some school administrators as well, are just now beginning to understand that BEP state funding is just a formula for calculating how much money the schools will get--it does not mandate where the additional money will be spent.

In fact, once the money is in the hands of the Hamblen County School Board (whether it's state BEP money or local taxpayer money), the Director of Schools, with the approval of the Hamblen County School Board, makes the determination of where the additional money goes-- whether it's $1 million or $3 million more. The Director and Board decide whether to use the new money to hire one or 14 new teachers, to offer AP courses, or to buy textbooks.

The extra money can go to hire new teachers or it can go to pay experienced teachers to retire--that's a decision that the school board makes.

The extra money can go to improve technology or it can go to provide more administrative personnel and pay--that's a decision that the school board makes.

The extra money can go to provide pay raises for all personnel or for teachers only--that's a decision that the school board makes.

Back to the original question: When is a "cut," not really a cut? When you get $3 million dollars in additional money to spend! That's only a cut if you live in the land of school board politics where you pull out the word "cut" when you are telling custodians and bus drivers that they don't get a piece (pay raise) of the $3 million dollar pie because the school budget was "cut."

It may have happened at some time, but I have never heard of the local school board getting, or expecting to get, all the money it requests. Besides, part of the political game that is played is that we don't really talk about education, we just talk about money. And our decisions are based on the assumption that money= education.

As part of the never-ending political game, the school board always asks county commission for about twice what it needs or expects to get. Then the county commission says "sorry" we can only give you this much. There is some haggling and negotiating behind the scenes. Then the school board meets and tells custodians or bus drivers or cafeteria personnel or teacher assistants that they won't get a pay raise because of that mean old county commission--the school board never says to the custodians or bus drivers or cafeteria personnel or teacher assistants that they will not get a pay raise because the school board has chosen not to spend the 05-06 new funding on raises for non-certified personnel.

The School Board is now in phase II of the money game. In this phase, the Board, assisted by the media, says that the school system is faced with budget "cuts" when actually the school board is faced with deciding where to spend $3 million more dollars.

(By the way, in the game that is played, the school board never expected to get the $4 million more that they requested anyway. They likely hoped to get $2.2-$2.6 million. Even though they are ahead of real expectations, the rules of the money game say they have to berate county commission and hard-working taxpayers and shout "cut," "cut, "cut" wherever they go).

Now we'll see a series of newspaper articles and editorials with posturing and commentary by the Board, the Director of Schools, and the local newspaper saying that education and children have been short-changed. Again the premise is money=education.

During the 10-year period that covers school years 1993-2002, student enrollment held steady. 1993: 8710 students. 2002: 8932 students. About 222 students TOTAL were added in the 10-year period from 1993-2002. That means we were adding on average about 22 students each year. In the last 2-3 years, however, there has been a growth of about 250+ students each year. Most of the increase in student numbers for 2004 and 2005 is found in Hispanic enrollment figures. That's not a racist statement. That's a simple fact that has been presented in newspaper articles using data provided by the Director of Schools and the school board.

The proposed 2006 school budget provides millions in new school funding. But (as always) county commission and local taxpayers will have to endure attacks that they don't love the children because they didn't provide the full $4 million dollars that the schools requested. And for some reason, everybody is trying to ignore the county budget that shows a deficit of $760,000. Where does the money come from next year to cover recurring county expenses? Where are the long-range strategic plans?

Is there a solution? Is there a way to get rid of the county's current projected deficit of $760,000 for 05-06 and still provide nearly $2.4-$2.5 million new funding for the schools? Yes. See my post of July 21, 2005. But don't hold your breath for that to happen.

The game has to be played out. It has to happen every year, like clockwork. The special government game that everybody knows. But, of course, no one is supposed to look at the real facts and figures or think outside the game box.


Ryount said...

I am registerd voter and I have never really paid much attention to how the Commissioners handle business until the last couple of years. When I see you all on TV acting like a bunch of childern. It took the Commissioners months to decided what color for the trash cans were. That was time that should have been used for something else. Now that it is time to spend money on something that counts you want to cry about what someone's salary is. I can not believe that a former teacher would have such a negative attitude for our school system. These teachers need raises we rank 117th out of 125 in the state on the lowest teachers' salary. Is that why you left to be a lawyer. My childern are on the Honor Roll for straight A's in advanced class. I think it is outrageous for the Commissioners to sit up there wasting time and not investing in our childern's future. What will happen is the childern in Hamblen County will not receive the education needed to go to College and getting that degree, they will become a burden to society. I called my County Commissioner and he said that because 91% of the students that attended school there receive free lunch that he was not going to vote for the increase of any taxes. Do you know what my Commissioner said that I needed to move to Blount County so that my childern would have the education needed for College. Well, my childern is that 9% what do I tell them when it is time for College and they have not had the AP classes needed to attend. My husband and I both work and own our home. I say Raise the taxes we rank 75th in 95 counties. Look around were live in 2005. IF WE DO NOT INVEST IN OUR CHILDERN THE FUTURE DOES NOT LOOK SO GREAT!

Joe Powell said...

It is insulting how the School Board and Dr Lynch behave with taxpayer dollars. More is never enough. So far this summer, they have blamed the parents for “not participating”, or immigrants in the education system, and of course, they always hammer away at the Hamblen Commission (with the perverse help of local media outlets). Wasn’t it last summer they blamed the teachers themselves, locking them into high-pressure, federally mediated contract negotiations they dragged on for months and months?
To them, Education means one thing – Jobs, which is to say, Their Jobs. As the largest single employer in the county, they wield tremendous power. Funds are dispersed in a dizzying pattern from the Federal, State and Local levels. Millions and millions and millions pour in.
When they work on their budget, again with the perverse help of the local media, there is scant coverage on their decisions, such as spending money for new windows at their building, a building they are eager to leave for a newer, more expensive home. “We would not want a prospective business to see those ugly windows,” emerges as a veiled threat that Jobs depend on the school board.
The ‘news’ reports escalating costs, but never the actual funding decisions the board makes.
The ‘news’ cheers the board for establishing an additional pre-school program as a ‘state model’, handling a few dozen children at a cost of tens of thousands and cries of ‘we need more.’ There is no perception that the Board and Dr Lynch eagerly increase operating costs despite being unable to keep their growth in line with community needs.
Sadly, the public is so confused and distracted by all the wailing and finger wagging they never get the chance to focus on the facts.
Tennessee and Hamblen County, like most public school system operations remain stuck in an endless loop of demanding more and more tax dollars with steadily decreasing results and less and less accountability.
Recently, on May 18, 2005 while the Texas legislature was working on the details of a school finance bill, Gov. Rick Perry (R) addressed more than 300 educators and activists at the Texas Public Education Foundation's Education Summit. Below are excerpts from his comments, provided by Connie Sadowski, director of the Austin CEO Foundation.
On financial accountability: "If the taxpayers are going to pick up the tab, they ought to be able to look at every item on the receipt. The only way to ensure more dollars make it to the classroom is to make sure classroom expenditures are disclosed in plain terms. I think taxpayers deserve to know how much is spent on administration and instruction and how much they are paying lobbyists and lawyers to extract more tax dollars from their pockets. Taxpayers should also be empowered to control future spending by having the authority to vote on future property tax enrichment increases. The decision to spend more local tax dollars on local schools should be made by local voters."

Rather than cope with current needs, there is always a new ‘model’ to be tested which needs YOUR money.
Rather than pay teacher increases, they’ll fight them in mediation with YOUR money.
Rather than cooperation, there are dire warnings, fears heaped upon fears. What is a concerned parent to do?
Most who have raised any questions will tell you a tale about blame being leveled everywhere and zero accountability.
For a Teacher – the nightmare of beauracracy is deeply intimidating. To even join their colleagues for collective bargaining power is presented as something that threatens the public good.

With a government-controlled monopoly, a Parent’s choice or a Taxpayer’s choice is eliminated. Imagine your child is in a private school. The tuition costs go up every year, 6 to 10 percent, from 1st grade thru 12th grade. But when testing scores are revealed, or actual graduation rates are revealed (not GEDs), or when your child can’t make it into college – would you not take your child from that unsuccessful and expensive school and find something better for them?

You are absolutely right, Linda, that this is a game they have perfected over the course of many years. This county is now subject to the whims of second-generation board members who inherit positions from a public plainly left in the dark.
Parents who take issue (or just don’t cheer the board’s demands) find their children’s education being dangled in mid-air – ‘They could be in trouble!!! They’ll never get jobs!! We know who the agitators are!!”
Any question from the public or the county or any parent is immediately seized as proof of hostile intent.
Who will they blame next? It seems everyone is fair game.