Having had long experience in preparing budgets, I know it can be an arduous task that is often fraught with contentious debate and difficult decisions. The process can only work if the Administration is a willing partner and is providing strong support for recommended expenditures, proposing alternative expenditure levels and providing clear presentations on organizational capabilities, objectives and tactical direction. Unfortunately, my sense is that the Administration is NOT a “willing partner” in the budget discussions to date.
The following are a couple of quick observations that lead me to the belief that Superintendent Davis is not showing leadership in the budget process:
- The information presented by the Administration is highly summarized and there is limited detail. This allows the Administration to control the conversation and prevents the Budget Commission and the public from making any reasonably informed observations or suggestions.
- The Administration does not provide any justification for the expenditure requests – it simply has provided a number – $611 million in expenditures – and no justification why this number is appropriate.
- The Administration focuses on what it can’t do because of limitations – i.e. – put a cost on each of its strategic plans. I would suggest that this is a complete misdirection and obfuscates the issue. At this point, costing out strategic plans is totally unnecessary.
- An annual budget is a statement of tactical choices that are undertaken to meet the objectives of the overall strategy. However, the Administration appears to be unwilling to provide a list and cost of the tactical choices it is making even though all the tools and information required to do this are in place. What is lacking is the “will” on the Administration’s part to do so as this would transfer the “budgeting power” and choices to where it belongs – at the Budget Commission level.
- The Administration stated that 80.9% of the expenditures were in the “school house”. While this may be the case (based on their method of calculation), it seems to me that the critical breakdown is between School Administration and Direct Instruction. The fact that a waiver from the “65% test” had to be requested indicates to me that the 80.9% claim is highly suspect and is heavily weighted towards School Admin versus Direct Instruction.
- While both Superintendent Davis and CFO Burbridge made the presentation in the recent Budget Committee meeting, it seemed disjointed and it is not clear that they are willing to justify the expenditures request by presenting a comprehensive and easily understandable set objectives, tactical initiatives and costs associated with them.
- Budget Committee Chairperson Butler-Burks asked the right question – “What are we getting for what we are paying?” To-date the Administration has yet to provide any answers.
A reasonable question to ask is “Why is the Administration not leading and cooperating in the budget process?” My sense is that they know the answers to fixing the $60 million deficit are not ones that they like. As I have noted here on many occasions, School and General Administration spending is out of control and has outpaced spending on Direct Instruction for the last five years. If the budget is to be fixed, the Administration will have to make substantial cuts in administrative costs – something it has refused to do in the past and it appears it is unwilling to do so now.
Until the Board has a “willing partner” in the Administration that it can trust to accurately present all the information needed, there is almost no chance that a budget will be adopted that represents the combined “sense of the Board” as the information and data necessary to make reasonable choices and decisions has simply not been provided to anyone.
The budget process is broken and only the Administration can fix it by providing comprehensive information, justification for expenditure request and alternatives for needed cuts. So far, it has provided none of this – and refuses to make difficult but necessary decisions.