This past Thursday I attended the Budget Commission with the expectation that I would see the preliminary FY 14 Budget. Instead what I saw was a budget process that seems to be hopelessly broken.
First the numbers – in the prior meeting, the revenues amounted to $554 million and an anticipated deficit of $45 million. A total of $25 million in cuts were proposed with the balance made up from dipping into the General Fund reserve. After further review, the Board requested that $3.3 million of the cuts be added back. In addition, approximately $9.3 million of expenses were added (primarily due to budgeting errors) and State QBE grants were reduced by $2.7 million. The net result is revenues of $551 million, expenditures of $611 million and a total deficit of just over $60 million.
Given that the deficit had increased another $15 million, did the APS staff provide additional options to the Board for closing this? No – neither Superintendent Davis nor CFO Burbridge offered a single suggestion or set of alternative options. Extensive discussion ensued with the following alternatives suggested by Board members:
- Meister & Johnson – look to reduce the high cost of some very small schools – this discussion did not go very far as the issue is a difficult one and would require extensive additional study.
- Meister & Harsch-Kinnane – look to the class sizes – CFO Burbridge indicated that a waiver to keep class sizes above the State mandated levels would be requested again in FY14.
- Harsch-Kinnane & Meister – look to reduce the General Administration cost, which is substantially greater than other similar Georgia districts. Davis strenuously rejected this and indicated that he was still building the necessary infrastructure.
- The one positive note for taxpayers is that neither Davis nor other Board members were willing to consider a tax increase (it’s an election year).
It was clear that the Budget Commission members were frustrated. The information they had requested in the prior meeting was not brought to the table and Davis and Burbridge offered no additional solutions. Further, while some high level Budget numbers were offered, there was no detailed information that the Board or the public could review and comment on. So what now? Budget Committee Chairperson Butler-Burkes again requested that each Senior Administrator come back to the next meeting and justify the amount of spending they were requesting (I am amazed that this did not happen long ago). Although not specifically stated, my sense is that inherent in the request was also a request for an assessment of what could be cut and what the consequences of the cuts would be.
I understand the Board’s frustration and they held the Administrations feet to the fire by demanding that they justify their spending requests. But time is quickly running out as the June 15th statutory deadline has be met and the property tax millage rate has to be published for 30 days in advance of finalizing it – therefore the revenue side of the Budget has to be finished within the next 11 days. But the expenditure side of the process is still not close to being finalized.
It is clear to me that the budget process is broken and the Administration is not stepping up to the plate to fix it. I will write more on this in a subsequent post.