The Most Controversial Budget In Recent Memory Gets A Do-Over; Still Contentious

Metro Schools’ budget process has been an ordeal! News of the $7.5 million loss due to an “unexpected” dip in enrollment combined with news of the reallocation of federal funding from poor schools to poorer schools was just too much. Not surprisingly, director of schools Shawn Joseph has been under fire since communicating these things in a letter to teachers, subsequently calling for a spending freeze requiring all purchases to go through administration for approval. It doesn’t get better from here.

Schools were given budgets reflecting the new formula where Title I (federal) dollars were taken from schools that have less than 75 percent poverty to schools with 75 percent or more poverty. The messaging seeking to promote equity versus equality to support the aggressive reallocation fell on angry ears. It was too much too fast and the consequences were dire. One of the largest high schools in the state was set to lose nearly $800 thousand while an elementary charter school with 73 percent poverty, just under the 75 percent threshold, would have lost significant funding. Then word got around that the spending freeze included copy paper. A local high school submitted a request for copy paper that was denied. And there’s more…

While parents and other edu-advocates drew battle lines and crafted opposition tactics, a small faction within the school board took a position opposite the director, after only eighteen months of his tenure. The school board has submitted a request to audit the director’s spending. While this is not an unreasonable request, its bound to create dissension among the ranks.

Or Maybe Not

Late last week word reached the masses that Dr. Joseph retreated from the plan to redistribute federal dollars in the 18-19 budget.

“We have since decided that the adjustment was too sudden and did not allow schools enough planning time so we have decided to phase in those changes.”

I’m grateful for the wisdom to make such large-scale change over time. With that said, today is as good a time as any to discuss equity in budget allocations and what that means for the schools negatively impacted by the reallocation. If Dr. Joseph’s vision is to see schools with more than 75 percent poverty get more dollars, money that will be reallocated from other schools, then that discussion needs to happen yesterday.

Even though the district is in the throes of the 18-19 budget season, Dr. Joseph must begin preliminary discussions with faculties and parents at schools projected to have less than 75 percent poverty for the 2019-20 school year. I don’t think anyone in and around education will dispute the need for high-need schools to get more resources.The problem is under the director’s proposed formula pulling from Peter to pay Paul will hurt Peter. Is that what we want?

Tough Decisions

Budgeting is hard and if there has ever been a year that exemplifies its difficulty, this is the year. We are now hearing about layoffs in the student support services department which provides robust ancillary services to students and families under the leadership of Dr. Tony Majors. The first major casualties in the budget do-over. The department will lose social workers, attendance and truancy workers, and family involvement specialists. Positions that support the district’s commitment to social emotional learning and efforts to curb chronic absenteeism.

I’m sure the administration didn’t make these cuts lightly and I appreciate the effort to protect classrooms, but such cuts also protect central office. Just something to think about.

A Bunch of Budget Hearings

In the meantime, the director has set up FOUR 18-19 budget hearings over the next few weeks beginning Tuesday, March 27th. The director’s annual state of school address is Wednesday, March 28th at 10:30am where he will walk through the main points of the budget proposal.

The additional budget hearings are as follows:

April 9, 2018 at 5:00pm

April 10, 2018 at 5:00pm

April 12, 2018 at 5:00pm

The district will vote on the budget in a special meeting Monday, April 16, 2018 and will take the budget to Mayor David Briley two days later at 9am.  

It’s budget season, y’all.To be continued…

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