As I have noted here in the past, the financial issues that APS will face in the coming year are significant and will impact nearly every decision that current and future Board members make. While I do not believe that financial issues are always “the” most important factor when making a decision, given the current financial state of APS, they must be a significant consideration as decisions are made.
This will be even more pronounced as many of the decisions made by the Board in the past several years have significantly reduced the System’s financial flexibility. This is the case as the General Fund reserves, which as recently as FY09 stood at $158 million, are now projected to be near the minimum level required to operate without going into debt.
Given the financial constraints that will be imposed on the Board of Education in the coming years, the candidates’ views and positions on APS financial issues are critically important. In that regard, over the coming months as we go into the election in November, I will be asking questions and documenting the candidates’ positions on a series of very difficult financial trade-offs and fiscal decisions that they will have to make as new Board members.
Over the next several days, I will post the questions that I believe each candidate should be able to answer as they run for a Board seat. At the same time, as I hope the candidates will use this blog as a resource for APS financial information and analysis, I will provide as much background information as possible regarding each area of inquiry.
The questions will be tough, but it is important to remember that current Board members have had to address many of them already and their positions are on record. Candidates that are well-informed on the issues should also be prepared to answer the tough financial questions as they will undoubtedly face many of the same or similar issues during their tenure on the Board.
In general, the questions I will ask will follow these general themes:
- Position on Revenues – raising or lowering property taxes and reliance on “one-time” revenues.
- Position on Deficit Spending and General Fund Reserves – views on prior deficit spending, positions on future deficit spending and level of General Fund reserves required.
- Position on Allocation of Resources – views on current and future spending on classroom instruction, school administration, operations and general administration.
- Position on Class Size Waivers and Average Class Size – views on the currently planned average class sizes and the class size waiver requested by the current Board.
- Position on the Budget Process – views on how the process should be improved
- Position on Overcapacity Issues and School Closings – views on how overcapacity will influence their future decisions and views on redistricting and school closings.
- Position on Board’s Oversight Responsibilities – views on the existing control mechanisms and adequacy of the information provided to Board members.
- Position on Charter Schools – views on charter schools and funding for charter schools.
- Position on Other Issues that Have Financial Implications – views on other issues as they arise.
I will also note, that it is not enough for a candidate to say “I am against [insert any issue]”; but it is also just as important to hear what solutions candidates are offering, why they believe their solutions are viable and what financial trade-offs they are willing to make to implement their solutions.
One final note, many of the financial issues are very complex and require a considerable amount of knowledge and insight to formulate an answer or solution. Additionally, most of the candidates are not experienced politicians – but they are passionate about our school system.
As they go through the election process and become more informed on issues, they will make mistakes. I am not interested in “gotcha” questions or pounding on a candidate that misspeaks. However, I am very interested in their thoughtful views and their well-considered positions on the tough issues they will face if elected.
It should be a fun and exciting election season – stay tuned.