Budget meeting recap: 12/15

Tonight’s budget meeting was supposed to be short! It wasn’t. Lots of public comment, particularly on a proposal from the Superintendent to raise the limit for administrative approval of contracts to $25,000 from $8,000. According to state law, school districts can allow Superintendents to “administratively approve” (meaning, approve without prior approval from the Board) contracts up to a value of $76,000. The argument in favor of doing this is that the vast majority of contracts are routine, so cutting down the number of contracts requiring Board scrutiny would save everybody time. The argument against is that remaining handful of contracts that appear routine but aren’t.

Retroactive contracts of any amount would still have to go to the Board for approval, as would any contract for an amount over $25,000. All administratively approved contracts would have to be reported on a monthly basis to the Board (a current rule but one that is not always followed).

Committee members asked for additional safeguards in the policy (listed below), and referred the proposal back to the full board with no recommendation, pending amendments. This should hit the agenda at the January 12th meeting (along with Board leadership elections and other burning issues.) The requested amendments were:

  • Add language so that multiple contracts to the same person, whether they are delivering a service at one site or multiple sites, would require board approval after the total amount paid hit $25,000;
  • Originally, the Superintendent had proposed raising the admininstrative approval limit to $25,000 effective immediately, and then raising it to the state’s limit of $76,000 as of July 2010. Instead, Board members requested that the Board review the new policy before automatically raising the limit again in July;
  • Ensure that reports on all administratively approved contracts are given to every Board member during the first week of every month.

We spent the final two hours of the meeting reviewing several informational items – an update on how the executive team is applying new flexibility on various categorical programs; an update on the student nutrition budget, and an update on the Child Development budget.  There is good news on student nutrition – we are close to passing a state review of our compliance with nutrition program regulations, which means that over $1.5 million in reimbursements withheld by the state should be released soon. Other good news is that overall participation in the meal program is rising, and our 2009-10 “cash shortage” (meaning the amount of money we should be able to collect either through cash payments or reimbursements but don’t) is down over $100,000 from where it was at the same point in the 2008-09 school year.

By the time we got to the discussion about our Child Development program, everyone was tired and grumpy. The funding for our preschool programs (which double as afterschool programs for school-age children) is incredibly complex, so I didn’t get much out of the discussion other than two key points:

  • The shortfall in our Child Development Program for this year will approach $3 million and is expected to grow in subsequent years due to falling state funding and increasing benefit costs for our CDP teachers;
  • The way we deliver our preschool and various afterschool programs is cobbled together from multiple funding streams, each with its own complex web of regulations and restrictions. It is messy and inefficient, but these programs are central to our goal of closing the achievement gap and essential for our families. To general agreement from Board members, Commissioner Wynns suggested that we need a plan that streamlines these programs, particularly in making sure there is adequate afterschool capacity at every school site for every child who needs it, on a sliding scale to ensure that the programs are affordable to everyone.

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