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Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Rookie Mistake

Ah, it was going to happen sooner or later. My inexperience as a superintendent would emerge in some unexpected form during my initial year in the role. That's not to say that I've been error free since I started in Green Island last July. I haven't been immune from miscalculations or acts of omission that could have been adjusted in retrospect. However, I almost missed an important time-line this year that was imposed by the state in 2002. It's another of the countless reports we are compelled to file.

Each district is required to electronically submit a State Property Tax Report Card that details data regarding the proposed budget for the school system. This information includes the amount expended the previous school year, the amount proposed for the upcoming school year, the percentage of change between the two totals, the proposed tax levy, the tax levy from the previous year, the difference between these last two figures, and the consumer price index for the recently concluded year. No matter how many budgets I constructed as a principal over the three decades I served as a building principal, I was never involved with this element of the process. It was a central office or superintendent function that I hadn't experienced.

Now, you can't generate the data necessary for this report until you have a school board meeting to formally arrive at the proposed operating budget. I hadn't scheduled such a meeting because I assumed that our public hearing on the budget, scheduled for Thursday, May 5th, was all that was needed to prepare the budget and subsequently present it to the public for their consideration during the twelve days between adoption of the investment plan and the actual vote on it - Tuesday, May 17th. I had periodically provided the board members with relevant information, updating them with each and every change or input we received from the state department of education involving state aid allocations. We've discussed factors influencing our budget at earlier board meetings in preparation for finalizing the budget. We were ready to present the recommended budget at our May 5th school board meeting. However, I didn't realize there was any such thing as a State Property Tax Report Card so I hadn't scheduled a board meeting until I ran into a superintendent of a nearby school district at a conference of school superintendents on April 14th. Fortunately, during a conversation we had on school budgets he mentioned the State Property Tax Report Card - and the April 23rd deadline date for submission.

As soon as I returned to the office following that meeting I immediately initiated the procedures and notification of a special meeting of the school board that would allow us to formally adopt an investment plan for the 2011/12 school year before the due date of filing the State Property Tax Report Card. We publicized the meeting in the local newspaper, distributed information through our School News Notifier that sends emails and phone calls to those who have signed up for the system, and we announced the meeting on our school district website. Beyond the oversight, the regret I had about the issue was the special meeting had to take place the following week, during spring break. I was worried that people would feel that we intentionally scheduled the special meeting during a school break to avoid or minimize discussion, since many people might be out of town on vacation. The possible public relations fallout of the short notice was a concern. I apologize to anyone who was not able to adjust their schedules in order to attend the meeting.

We held the meeting and conducted the exercise of reviewing projected expenditures and revenue in light of the current financial environment. We examined the instructional context of programs and practices. All of this, as we maintained our commitment to the district-wide goals we developed back in our Board Advance in August (Remain a small school with BIG ideas). We eventually produced the financial figures that were featured in yesterday's Blog entry - Walking The Tightrope.

I'm sure there will be other mistakes of omission, as opposed to commission, along the path of acquiring experience and expertise as a superintendent. Someone once explained to me that everyone makes mistakes, but successful people learn from their mistakes. This was another learning opportunity for me. There's an idiom associated with mistakes that suggests there are two types of mistakes, and they are both related to a boat. Some mistakes are like a hole in the boat above the waterline of the boat. It's not good, but it won't sink the ship. These mistakes are inconvenient and more readily fixed. The other type of mistake is like a hole beneath the waterline of the boat. Those mistakes are more difficult to repair and, depending on the size of the boat, the hole could sink the vessel.

This was a hole above the waterline. Our boat is still sailing - toward a critical May 17th vote on our annual operating budget.

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