According to the published schedule, the initial FY 2014 Budget was supposed to be presented on April 1. Since then, I am aware of at least one Budget Commission meeting that resulted in some news, but the information presented was limited. Based on the article by Mark Niesse at the AJC, the initial draft of the FY14 Budget calls for $595 million in spending – but only $550 million in revenues and $45 million will have to be cut or require another dip into the General Fund cash reserves.
Initial items under consideration for cuts are the same ones we have heard about over the last three years – not pay teacher bonuses, not give teachers raises, reduce payroll by 26, some savings by restructuring bus services and outsourcing janitorial positions. However, the most significant component proposed to fill the gap is to use $20 million of the General Fund Reserve that now stands at approximately $69 million – this would result in a General Fund Balance of approximately 7-8% of annual expenditures. While I think this is a reasonable level, I still have a lot of problems with both the process so far and the proposed solutions, as follows:
- With a Budget Department of at least 8-10 people, why isn’t the budget delivered on time?
- Last year a Preliminary Budget was released so that the public could see what expenditures were being considered prior to adoption by the Board of Education. However, the Preliminary Budget was so riddled with errors that they were “hammered” for such a sloppy job. So far this year there is nothing.
- By not releasing a Preliminary Budget, the Administration is controlling the “talking points” and the public is unable to assess what is specifically in the Budget.
- The proposed cuts discussed by the Administration are almost exactly the same as those proposed last year – most of which were never fully implemented.
- As I have noted in the past – and will continue to focus on – the School Administration and the General Administration staffing levels have ballooned over the last 5-7 years. However, no mention of downsizing these functions yet. As usual the focus is on teachers and janitors – not on the real spending problem.
Time is growing short and APS will have to release the numbers soon – it will be interesting to see what choices they make – and more importantly – what hard decisions they refuse to make.
As a side note, in the news article noted above, Niesse reported that APS has 7,700 employees. This is the first time I am aware that APS has released this number. It has never been shown in any budget documents in the past as only staffing for the General Fund Budget is shown and the number of employees in the Special Revenue Fund and other Funds has not been published in the past. It is clear that APS knows the total number of employees in the Consolidated Budget and I will be pushing hard to get this information for both FY 2013 and FY 2014 as this information is critical to substantiate many of APS’s statements – both current and in the past. My sense is that in the past, games have been played that indicate staffing level reductions when in fact, this has not been the case. Stay tuned.