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Tuesday, February 21, 2012

The "B" Word

It's that time.

I'm not using the term - "It's that time again," because for school leaders the "B" word, (budget) is a continuous activity rather than a single event. However, the general public often isolates the issue of budget and frames it in time between development and decision, which typically begins in earnest after the State Department of Education releases preliminary figures on aid and concludes throughout New York on the third Tuesday of May with the annual vote on the school district's operating budget.

Ideally, the budget represents a blueprint for the school system by establishing the parameters of operation for the system. The funding determines the scope and direction of efforts to meet the needs of our learners. It becomes a vehicle for the staff to exercise in quest for progressing toward its mission.

Normally, you prepare an overall strategy for allocating resources necessary to successfully address the instructional programs and experiences required to prepare graduates of the district for college, career, and citizenship (that's the mission of our school system). Once you have decided on the resources needed to promote successful goal attainment in terms of graduation rates, performance levels, and complying with state mandates, you total up the figures and arrive at an annual operating budget. I elected to use the word "normally" because the current status of funding education is anything but normal. The local, regional, state, and national economy is depressed and reaching a point of fatigue. The expectations of consumers has perhaps never been higher, and the available funding (accounting/adjusting for inflationary increments over time and unfunded state and federal mandates) has perhaps never been lower. The confluence of these factors, and other intervening issues, has imperiled schools across the country and impacted the future of countless learners.

Our district has passed through the phases of budget construction (or destruction, actually) in which programs and practices considered as "wants" have been eliminated from the budget or drastically reduced, and entered the stage in which we have engaged in a triage-like exercise of decreasing programs and practices considered as "needs." In the last three years the district has made significant reductions in teaching and administrative staff and instructional and extra-curricular programs. The task of choosing what to negatively impact now reminds me of the old silent, black and white movies (I'm really not that old) involving a steam powered railroad train running out of coal to fuel the engines and turning to stripping the train of anything that will burn in order to keep it going. The question is whether the train arrives at it's destination (and refueling point) before losing steam so it can once again take to the rails and continue in business.

That's the same question school districts all over are facing as budgets are being developed for the public to either affirm or reject.

The Green Island Union Free School District would benefit by the following proposals for consideration of those with their hands on the levers of power in Albany.

1. Immediate mandate relief, (there are a host of regulations already proposed by the State School
    Boards Association and the Council of State School Superintendents)
2. More equitable distribution of state funds to public schools based on the specific and unique
    economic needs of school districts as identified by their state determined Combined Wealth Ratio,
3. Reallocate the existing $250,000,000 currently targeted by the Governor for Competitive Grants to
    schools using a formula proposed above - based on the district's Combined Wealth Ratio,

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