By David Banks, Cobb County School Board Post 5
Superintendent Michael Hinojosa, through his CFO Mike Addison, presented recommendations for the Fiscal 2013 School District Budget at an April 11 school board work session. The recommendations contained some drastic cuts in teacher and staff positions, along with reductions in instructional time by imposing five furlough days and, increasing “average” class sizes by two students.
Additionally, the budget proposal included utilizing approximately $21.1M from the existing “$100M Reserve Funds”.
My question to Mr. Addison was, with $100M in “reserve funds” sitting in the bank, from a monetary standpoint is there any reason to make the above proposed budget cuts? Mr. Addison’s immediate response was, “It would be reckless not to do so." I certainly understand that difficult choices have to be made when there are no alternatives, but that is not the case here and I stated to the CFO that I steadfastly disagreed.
Mr. Addison’s description of reckless when there are, in fact, available alternatives was interesting and somewhat condescending at best. It is my belief the draconian cuts being proposed and under consideration by this School Board are not only “reckless” but also unnecessary. With the operative word “reckless” and, with alternatives available, consider the following:
- Would it be reckless for this Board to impose five furlough days for Teachers and Employees, which would result in a significant reduction in compensation and eliminate five days of student instruction time?
- Would it be reckless for this Board to reduce by 40 percent the Media Center Para-professional hours and Media Center capability and limiting student access?
- Would it be reckless for this Board to place an added financial hardship on working parents who must now provide additional childcare?
- Would it be reckless for this Board to increase classroom size by an “average” of two students through the elimination of approximately 350 teacher positions and potentially compromise the “Quality of Education” our community has come to expect?
It may be understandable that the Chief Financial Officer of the Cobb School District would want to maintain a substantial balance in the “Reserve Fund." The Board must weigh the potential consequences of drastic cuts on the “Quality of Education” verses the comfort of a larger “cushion” of Reserve Funds just sitting in the bank.
My recommendation is to increase the amount of Reserve Funds being committed to the proposed Fiscal 2013 budget to approximately $50M, still leaving $50M in our Reserve Fund. Simply by using some additional reserve funds the Board could eliminate the drastic cuts now being proposed.
Is there Yet Another Alternative?
There is no doubt that governments at all levels are being challenged to reduce cost, become more efficient, think out of the box and explore alternatives. With that in mind there may be another approach to explore that has not been addressed in previous Budgets.
It is important to understand the existing process by which the Annual Cobb County School District Budget is developed. The Administration begins the process using the prior Fiscal Year’s Budget number (Continuation Budget) as their starting point. In the case of fiscal year 2013 that number is $820,773,005. From there, anticipated expenditures and revenue collection projections are forecast and a Budget is developed. It should be noted this type of budgeting does not require justification of potential expenditures for any fiscal year.
The fiscal year 2013 budget proposal was formulated following this process and there is an anticipated deficit. Keep in mind that the deficits in the 2013 budget are projected, not as yet a reality. Expenditure and revenue projections in recent budget cycles had projected deficits, but in fact resulted in surpluses, and this may very well occur with the 2012 budget.
Would it not be prudent to consider developing the 2013 budget using only the number from the previous 2012 Fiscal cycle, not “projecting” deficits that may not occur, and not imposing drastic cuts on the front end of the 2013 budget cycle? As we move further into Fiscal 2013 should it become necessary to dip into “Reserve Funds” the Superintendent and CFO could come before the Board and make requests. This would not only give the Board greater oversight of the budget process but also provide the transparency so vital in maintaining public trust.
Could this work and spare the school district from drastic cuts that may not be necessary? Our children’s education has to be our primary focus. New approaches to meeting these challenges need to be considered and this is certainly a new concept in the budgeting process. But regardless of which approach to the Budget is taken it is critical that “Quality Education” not be compromised.
- Should the Board take greater control of the budget process as defined by State Statute?
- Should the Board insist the Administration use the projected Revenue of $820,773,005 for fiscal year 2013 expenditures, and if there is a need to exceed approved Budgeted amounts then have the Superintendent make the appropriate requests with justification to the Board?
It is said that “difficult times demand difficult choices” and I would urge the other members of the Board to carefully evaluate the choices and alternatives available and not adopt the proposed Budget that imposes these drastic and unnecessary cuts.