Ask For What You Seek

I was kinda proud of this response I posted to Facebook, so I thought I’d share it here. It relates to the Operating Referendum for Christina School District on May 27th.

A question was asked about where the money goes and why there isn’t an understandable budget for people to see, etc.  This was my response:

I’m a Dad of 2 boys at Keene Elementary, I’m working with our all-volunteer Referendum Committee and for the last year and a half, I have served on the all-volunteer Citizen’s Budget Oversight Committee (CBOC) for the Christina School District and its Board of Education, as of Wednesday I also serve on the new Expense Reduction Committee (ERC) for the District and its Board.   CBOC is a legally required entity charged with ensuring the District is expending its Board approved budget appropriately.

The current State required funding process for all 19 public school districts mandates that an Operating Tax increase of any amount requires a public vote.  This sets *every* District up to hold referenda every 3-5 years to generate additional Operating revenue to pay for rising costs that Districts largely have no  control over.  Costs like energy, water, bus transportation to get students from home to school and school to home, supplies that go into the classrooms (paper, pencils, etc).  The District does have control over another area Operating Tax revenue is spent: portions of staff employment costs like salary, medical, prescription, vision and dental benefits, and the ENTIRE cost for staff and supplies in programs the State does not feel are worth funding on their part: Art, Music, Drama, and Phys Ed instructors, Librarians, School Nurses, textbooks.  83% of the funds generated via the Operating Tax are spent on student service personnel.  The remaining 17% largely goes to supply (including electricity, water, internet, transportation, classroom supplies, etc) needs at the individual school level.

“Fixing” the funding issue is a very high-priority item and I 100% agree it must be done.  Problem is, all Districts are required to follow State funding requirements.  The broken process is owned by the State of Delaware and any fixing has to come out of Dover with legislation.  For this referendum we are working within the severely complicated and restrictive confines of current public education funding regulations.  Would it be great to just cut things here and there that we all feel provide no value and use that money to fix the looming deficit?  Heck yeah it would.  But we can’t do that.  The only revenue the District has to spend on things that are not required by the State or Federal Gov’ts are the Unrestricted Local Funds generated by Property Taxes.  That is where our shortfall is and we are unable to move other money around to cover it.  For the last 3 years, the District has been using operating cash reserves to compensate for the inadequate operating revenue coming in.  Next year, what remains in reserve will not be enough to cover the operating expenses listed above; it will be short by approximately $9.5 million.  We are at a breaking point where we have to ask the public to raise revenue to keep things going as they are (tried in Feb with Option 1), make spending cuts and ask for a smaller tax increase (happening now, $2 million in cuts ant $0.37 increase) or eliminate the shortfall entirely by cutting operating expenditures by $9.5 million.

For the last 3 years, CBOC in its monthly meetings and reports to the Board of Education has consistently been noting this snowballing budget shortfall and that it is not due to mismanagement of funds, but largely uncontrollable rising costs.  We have indicated, consistently, that without increasing funding reductions an operating referendum will be needed prior to the start of School Year 2015-2016.  The authorization for referendum did not come from the Board until late last year.  February failed, and there is a mandatory 60 day wait until another vote.  Board authorization for this vote came in February, and the absolute last time we could hold a vote and still have it impact the school year starting this fall, is next week.

As far as an understandable budget, with the way public education funding is done in Delaware it’s 99.999% impossible to condense a District budget to the point where it still accurately shows very, very detailed spending (what you are asking for) and isn’t 250 pages long.  However, CBOC exists for this very purpose.  We serve as the ‘translators’ for the ridiculous process Districts have to go through for funding to aid in the general public and Board of Education’s understanding of what is spent where and why.

To that end, I’m offering my service to you and ANY member of the public to help you gain a better understanding of the funding process, why things are done the way they’re done and where the money comes from and goes to.  It took me a good 8-10 months to really grasp why things are the way they are, and I am more than willing to help you and anyone else grasp it like I, and the rest of CBOC has.  I’ll meet for coffee, just to talk, or email/text back and forth.

CBOC’s next meeting, which is and always has been open to the public, is 6:30pm on either Wednesday June 17th or June 24th at Gauger-Cobbs Middle.  Schedule is announced on CSD’s webpage.  If you friend me on Facebook, I talk about it all the time.

ERC’s next meeting is next Thursday, May 28th 6:30pm at Gauger-Cobbs in the Professional Development Room.  Open to the public.  Questions welcome.

Our volunteer committee is running a website that focuses on info surrounding the referendum CSDWeAllWin.org, and a Facebook page: facebook.com/CSDWeAllWin

*ALL* district financial data is and has been available on CSD’s website, including CBOC reports, http://www.christinak12.org/apps/pages/index.jsp?uREC_ID=195038&type=d&termREC_ID=&pREC_ID=393370

brianstephan@gmail.com or 302.419.5276.  If I miss your call or if you text me just let me know who you are in the voicemail or text and I will return your call or messages/emails.

 

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