Posted by Kirk Lunde at the Tucker Patch, June 12, 2014 at 11:36 AM
I would like to follow up last week’s red-faced rant to the BOE and subsequent post about international teachers with some context from the last five months.
At the February work session, Dr. Bell, the school district Chief Financial Officer, asked the BOE to approve an amended budget. He presented a T Sheet showing the changes to be made. The items listed on the T Sheet did not have explanations attached and he walked the BOE through them. After his explanation, several board members had questions. Not nit-picking, micromanaging sorts of questions, but legitimate questions to gain an understanding of what was being asked.
For example; one of the changes in appropriations listed is “Additional School Based Salary and Benefits Expense.” Mr. Orson asked, “About the additional school-based salary, can you give us an idea on what these positions are that are showing up in this $2mil and change?” Dr. Bell responded, “I can’t give you an idea on the specific positions. No sir. Maybe Dr. Ward-Smith can do that.” Dr. Ward-Smith did not answer.
She didn’t say a word.
Another example of a “data-disconnect” on the T Sheet is the appropriation for “International Teachers.” Last October the BOE approved an additional $1,755,000 for international teachers. As I pointed out in an earlier post, during the current fiscal year, three divisions and fifteen accounts have been used to pay for international teachers. Where was the $600,000 requested in the amended budget going? Why $600,000 when over $3.5 million was already approved?
I could go on. It was a long discussion.
Mr. Mayfield summed up my opinion nicely when he said, “I guess it is difficult in 30 minutes to process all of the adds without really comprehending what all of the implications might be, or the rationales might be, and what the net benefits expected might be.” However, Superintendent Thurmond urged the board to approve the amended budget at that meeting and they did.
In the same meeting, Mr. Mayfield asked Dr. Ward-Smith if there are metrics for the HR initiatives related to teacher retention. Her response was the metrics will be in the strategic plan. However, the strategic plan posted on the district’s web site contains NO metrics.
(Sorry for the tangent.)
My point is, at every work session board members have asked questions about the budget or the financial report that have not been answered. At least not answered publicly.
At the May work session, Mr. Orson asked for more clarity, transparency, as to what the Legal Affairs budget will be used for and what the Legal Expenses budget includes. I think that is an excellent question. Legal Affairs is a division of the administration and shown as a separate budget category. However, Legal Expenses, like international teachers, is not shown in the budget, is not a budget category. Legal Expenses are shown in the monthly financial report, but where the expenses are allocated is not explained.
Does anybody know if Mr. Orson got the information he requested?
There should be a form for board meetings, on which questions are written. Those questions should be posted on the district’s website along with the answers. There should be some accountability.
That statement also applies to the BOE. In fact, Dr. Morley said in the April work session, “If we are going to be a board, we need to be accountable.” It is to that end I want the board to ask questions and discuss the proposed budget.
Dr. Morley’s reversed of her position at the June work session by saying the board shouldn’t ask questions and needs to trust the staff. I disagree with her.
Before the [2014-15] budget is approved by the BOE, they should be able to answer the question, “How is the money going to be spent?” It should also be easy for the public to find the answer to that question.
I believe it is wrong the BOE approves a one-page document as the budget for the district.
There needs to be a way to see how all the different versions of the budget are related to each other. There are 14 categories, or divisions, listed on the Consolidated Budget. How that money is going to be used, is not. There needs to be a way for the public to see what the money is going to be used for at a very detailed level.
The DeKalb County School District administration is not providing that kind of transparency during the budget process and the Board of Education is not requiring it.
This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to DeKalb School Watch. Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org
DSW Comment: We are highly cynical of any DCSS-produced ‘strategic’ plan. These plans have been regurgitated over and over, year after year, with the same Edu-Jargon, calls for ‘programs’ and ‘administrators’, yet no results are ever posted, announced or even (as far as we can tell) tracked. That goes for the budget as well. The system administrators continue to write ‘strategic’ plans (with budgets), yet no actual work product or student improvement seems to occur. That said, There is a link on the district’s homepage for the strategic plan. All documents concerning the strategic planning process and work is there. (http://www.dekalb.k12.ga.us/strategic-plan/) Read it and weep for our children to have such rudderless leadership as this.