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.