SOME GOOD NEWS TEMPERED WITH SOME UNCERTAINTY

4/30/19

by Scott Kee

GOOD NEWS

1.Comparing Notes.  As I have pointed out in prior blogs, the primary disconnect between TSD and TEA appears to be an inability to agree on some basic numbers(like actual revenue and expenses).  At the most recent meeting, Superintendent John Bash indicated that he and Jim Brittain met with WEA/TEA Leadership to compare notes.  John indicates they found some common ground.  As you might imagine, there were some clear points of disagreement.   TEA apparently provided some data, and TSD has promised to “answer” questions posed by TEA.  In my view, this is real progress.  

2.  Extension of deadline to notify staff of layoffs.  The TEA/TSD contract requires TSD to notify teachers by May 15, 2019 if they will not be offered employment during the 2019-20 school year.  TSD cannot accurately project the depth of cuts needed until digesting the state budget(which was passed on April 28th).  That process will likely take weeks.  TSD and TEA believe it would be detrimental to relations to provide notices to staff prior to actually determining whether the cuts will need to be made. Accordingly, TSD has asked TEA if it would agree to amend the agreement so that the layoff notices need not be provided until mid-June.  John said he received verbal interest from Tim Voie(TEA President).   TEA indicates it will get back to TSD with a formal answer.

3.  TSD Administrative work on the budget.   Having sat down on multiple occasions with John and Jim, it is clear to me that they are pulling out all the stops and exploring every avenue to try and minimize the effect of the cuts that will be made.  John has indicated multiple times that Jim has “scrubbed” the non-staff portions of the budget to the fullest extent possible.  Having walked through some of those cuts with Jim, I tend to believe there is virtually no fat left to cut when it comes to non-staff items.  In fact, coming from the private sector, I might argue that some of the non-staff cuts go too deep and am a little puzzled at the keep staff at all costs mentality.  

4. TSD agreed to provide a list of specific cuts to the Board.  Kim Reykdal once again asked John to provide a list of the non-staff cuts that will be proposed as a result of Jim’s “scrubbing” of the budget.  I am hopeful that list will provided in advance of the next meeting and the Board members work to get up to speed so that they can voice priorities of their constituents.  Further, I still believe the community should be involved in the process, and help determine the priorities, and preferences, with respect to cuts that have to be made.  

CONCERNS

1.TSD Administration(mainly Jim and John) are the ones who are deciding what will be cut.  Budgets reflect priorities.   Jim and John have priorities that may, or may not, be consistent with the priorities of the community and the Board.  I am unaware of any information provided to the community regarding proposed cuts.  Further, it appears the Board is also in the dark for the most part. 

John is good at what he does, and  touched on the ramifications of making information regarding cuts public. Lots of people will be upset, goodwill may be lost, and “drama” will occur. 

Of course, the downside of not publicizing the information is these decisions will likely need to be made very quickly, and there is no way the community, or the TSD Board, will be able to really understand the quantity and impact of specific line items that are cut.  Its pretty complicated, and I have found requires and extensive amount of work, to simply understand how to compare the F195/196 budget documents.  

TSD appears to have made the calculated determination that providing the information at present is not necessary, and the “drama” resulting from doing so outweighs the benefit of having  an informed Board and community.  I appreciate it is a tough call and, while I disagree, understand the rationale behind the decision.  

Making cuts requires comparisons.  What do I like more?  What do we need(subjective)?  This is hard to do in a vacuum, and very hard to do without understanding the entire budget.  The stakeholders need to be given a set of options, and then be allowed to go through those options, and work together to prioritize cuts.  In my view, TSD Admin making those calls is not the optimal route.  

As a side note, I have proposed on a number of occasions that a budget committee be formed to engage in a deliberate process.  I know it works because I just watched the boundary committee do great work, which involved (sometimes contentious) debate and an open and candid expression of opinions and priorities.  I am disappointed TSD has not engaged in a similar process surrounding the budget discussions.   

2.  Reluctance to cut any staff.  TSD’s insistence that everything else be cut to the bone before consideration of any staff cuts seems impractical.  Staff is the most important resource in the educational system.  However, personally, I could envision a scenario where, when faced with two undesirable options, I would choose to cut staff instead of necessary programs, materials, training, resources, etc. I also understand that the community, and the Board, may want to take a “cuts to staff only as a last resort” tactic.  However, I do not believe TSD, and specifically Jim and John, can reach that conclusion as the data is incomplete without input from the Board and community regarding specific cuts.      

The community is clearly interested.  A few months ago word got out that TSD was considering having Technology and Library Specialists reassigned to classroom teachers.  The result was a standing room only Board meeting with a dozen people voicing their opinions about what he/she thought should be a priority.  I would encourage the TSD Board to come up with a plan where priorities can actually be discussed in a public forum.    

3.  The Board’s lack of involvement in the budget process.  Based upon the questions asked at Board meetings, it is clear to me that the Board members do not, at present, understand the specific cuts Jim and John have in mind. Up until the last meeting, the Board had not demanded any real details.  As noted above, Kim Reykdal did ask, and John agreed to provide, a list of the items Jim has scrubbed.  Once again, this appears to have already been decided. I do not believe any of the Board members substantively assisted in the scrubbing process.  What does the Board want, or not want to scrub? I am hopeful they will educate themselves, and seek input from the community well in advance of any type of vote is taken.  


I would think the Budget is the most pressing issue facing TSD at present.  The breakdown in relationships last summer(which effect still lingers) was the direct result of TEA, TSD Admin, the TSD Board and the community not having the same understanding of basic principles regarding the budget.  TEA and TSD could not even agree on some simple items like income and expenses.    

The Board members spend a lot of time in the schools, and are involved in various activities within the school district.  They visit schools, talk with people, promote TSD in various ways and create a lot of goodwill in the community.  That being said, over the next few months, I would submit the most impactful decisions, and votes, to be considered by the Board will surround the budgeting issues.  I believe the Board members should spend the bulk of their time delving deeply into the budget, meeting with TEA and/or the community, jointly discussing(as a group) priorities with Jim and John and making sure that they have the time to carefully consider the difficult decisions on the horizon.   

As always, we welcome comments, questions or suggestions.   scottkee@citizensfortumwaterschools.com

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