Monday, June 02, 2014

The District Budget

There's an interesting argument in yesterday's H-L Editorial. I wonder if they meant it.
"Comb through a $428 million budget and you will find inefficiencies and inequities — so much so that the district expects to achieve $17.5 million in cuts without laying off tenured personnel."
How does this square with FCPS Superintendent Tom Shelton's argument that cuts will happen without compromising student achievement?

I never thought so before, but is there that much junk in the budget these days?

Were the paraprofessionals cut from the special education budget inefficient and/or inequitable?

This is a verbal tune I hear school leaders dance to anytime a budget is cut. But can we really make the cuts while promising the public it won't hurt student achievement?

If we can cut $17.5 million dollars without harming student achievement, can we cut $50 million? If we can cut a bucket load of paraprofessionals from our special education program while promising parents their kids will still receive a free and appropriate education, can we cut two bucket loads?

The bottom line is this: Education cuts hurt kids one way or another. When we slap on a happy face and assure parents that everything will be fine - that we really didn't need the positions in the first place - it tends to undermine the real value of our people and our programs. And that's a shame.

This editorial from the Herald-Leader:

Seize gain from school budget pain

The path to a budget for the Fayette County Public Schools has been unusually bumpy, and the turbulence hasn't ended. But the ride offers a few lessons:
■ No school cuts are painless, especially in Lexington which is passionate about education.
■ Comb through a $428 million budget and you will find inefficiencies and inequities — so much so that the district expects to achieve $17.5 million in cuts without laying off tenured personnel.
■ As painful and still confusing as this process has been, it has created an opportunity: The public is engaged in a way it seldom is — deep in the details of the FCPS budget, an eye-glazing document that has profound power over the futures of 40,000 youngsters and this city.
What's valuable? What's expendable? How do we wring more value from existing resources? Smart answers to these questions can make schools more effective, narrow achievement gaps, send out graduates better prepared, and make Lexington a more prosperous place.

To take advantage of this opportunity, Superintendent Tom Shelton and the board will have to commit to transparency and keep the public engagement going.

That will require clearing the cloud cast by Budget Director Julane Mullins' allegations that an accounting "irregularity" helped create a $20 million crisis. Shelton, the district's independent auditor and others insist that Mullins is mistaken.

State Auditor Adam Edelen is looking into the claim, along with, we hope, Mullins' other allegations of mismanagement. The state auditor's conclusions should carry a lot of weight.

Meanwhile, the budget that was approved 4-1 last week shows that Shelton and the board listened to the concerns of parents and educators.

After fumbling in February, when first announcing the need for almost $20 million in cuts, Shelton rebounded. He invited the public into the process, hosting forums at schools around the city where parents, educators and others were asked for their input.

In the end, the cuts were less and more narrow than first proposed.

That's not to say they won't be painful. Especially worrisome is the loss of 97 of the 335 paraeducators, the untenured aides who are there for students and teachers in special-education classrooms.

One of the efficiencies to be achieved in special education is welcome: a consolidation of positions that will streamline and shorten the process for diagnosing learning and behavioral disabilities. Also, the board approved adding seven special education teachers.

But parents of disabled children make a good point when they say the cuts in paraeducators should wait until the promised plan for meeting each child's needs is in place.

Shelton wisely recommended, and the board approved, earmarking $2 million in budget reserves for responding as special education needs are recognized during the upcoming school year.

But school officials should work quickly and in good faith with parents on the special education plan.
While cuts of $17.5 million will achieve some efficiencies, inequities get less attention and are harder to correct.

Parents who are working two jobs to make ends meet, are struggling with dysfunction and addiction, or who were failed by the Fayette schools themselves don't form booster clubs or take the mic at school board meetings.

As this budget is tweaked, as budgets always are, and as emotions run high over the upcoming redistricting, as they always do, let's remember that children who lack loud advocates are just as important to our city's future as those who are lucky enough to have them.

Fayette Schools budget director stands by her allegation 
of $20 million budgeting error

Read more here:

Fayette County Public Schools Budget Director Julane Mullins says she stands by the allegations made in an email she sent last week to the school board that will result in a special examination by the state auditor.

Mullins, in her first interview with the media since she sent the email May 26, told the Herald-Leader "I know in my heart that it was the right thing to do."

Mullins continues to work in the budget director's job that she has had for 10 years. She has worked in the district's budget office for 16 years. After sending Monday's email, she said "the stress was unreal" in her return to work. But Mullins said she received support last week from employees in the district "who also know things." That helped her get through the workweek, she said. "I ... stand behind what I said to the board and I hope in the upcoming weeks we can just let the audit progress and the story will tell itself."

Mullins' email, which became public Tuesday, created a media firestorm and caused the district to issue statements, hold a news conference and discuss the issues at a school board meeting last Wednesday. The email contained several allegations, including that the district's current $20 million shortfall was caused by irregular accounting but worsened with "numerous acts of mismanagement."
Superintendent Tom Shelton and the district's finance director Rodney Jackson have responded strongly to Mullins' email, saying they did nothing wrong or against district policy. Both Shelton and Jackson have denied doing anything that has caused the district's recent budget cuts as Mullins alleged.

Mullins said in the email to the board that a late journal entry caused the working budget for 2012-13 to be approved by the board with numbers that were inflated by $20 million.

Jackson said the entry in question was made timely, not late. The district's outside auditor also said that there were no improprieties. When Shelton learned that Mullins had sent her allegations to Kentucky Auditor Adam Edelen, Shelton also asked Edelen to investigate to assure the public.

On Saturday, Shelton reiterated that he and others "look forward to having the state auditor's office come in beginning on Wednesday of this week to review this situation."

"We remain confident that the allegations are the result of misunderstandings and miscommunication," Shelton told the Herald-Leader. "We expect this external review will suggest ways we can improve, while also confirming that there has been no wrongdoing."

Jackson, who attended last Wednesday's board meeting to defend himself, said the entry did not affect the fund balance of Fayette County Public Schools either before or after the transaction. In accounting, a journal entry occurs when an expense or revenue is moved from one place to the other, Mullins said.

The district ended up making $17.5 million in cuts in its tentative 2014-2015 budget which the board approved last week. But earlier this year Shelton had suggested that a $20 million cut was needed.
Shelton said the district was able to avoid cutting more because "budgets are forecasts, based on estimates, not exact figures."

"Throughout the discussion of our budget, we have shared the need to reduce our expenses for the upcoming year by 5 percent," he said. "This is not a situation where we are missing money. We just need to bring our spending in line with our expenses. The $20 million figure was a target, not an absolute."

Shelton said the budget approved by the school board last Wednesday includes "an adequate adjustment to provide financial stability."

Shelton said last week that the proposal to cut $20 million from the budget and the $20 million journal entry that Mullins questioned were not related.

Shelton has said that the cuts were necessary because the school district has lost significant state and federal funding. When federal grants have been cut, the district has picked up the cost of those positions and programs, he said.

An explanation for the need for the cuts on the district website says that while other school districts had widespread layoffs, Fayette County was able to give employee raises to attract strong candidates to work with students. In 2010, the school board did not take the allowable 4 percent increase in revenue from local property taxes and the compounding impact of that decision equated to the loss of roughly $21 million, the explanation said. The district's spending exceeds its revenues, Shelton has said.

On Friday, Mullins said, "I stand by my allegations. And at the same time everything that we've put out there about decreased revenue and picking up expenses in the general fund from grants that had left and mid-year budget reductions from the state and federal level, all of that is real and all of that has added to our situation. But having that revenue inflated is what started it. These other things have compounded it.

"It just added to our problems."

Mullins said she has never suggested that money was missing; just that a late journal entry led to problems.

"That's where the problems began, when you are ...thinking that you have more money than you really do."

Mullins said that since making the allegations, she has spoken to her boss, chief operating officer Mary Wright.

"She has treated me with the utmost respect," Mullins said. "She and I talked about being able to continue working together and get through this and I agree one-thousand percent. So hopefully she and I can continue working together in the same manner that we have in the past."


Sharon Mofield-Boswell said...

Thank you, Mr. Day, for continuing to keep all of us informed as this story continues to unfold. As we all know, I am very involved throughout the district. I have also attended the BOE meetings and "taken the mic" to voice my concerns...sometimes with unpleasant results. That being said, I would like the other families in FCPS to know that I am not affluent and that my husband and I both work multiple jobs to "make ends meet". The point I want to make is this: For the first time in a long time, I really think many families are truly engaged from all socio-economic backgrounds. This is the time for all of us to speak up and be heard. It doesn't matter your background or your education level...we all have valuable input to share regarding the education of our children. Let me be the perfect example of not letting any circumstance interfere with advocating for children. It doesn't take wealth or high level education to speak on the behalf of just takes passion and dedication. We can make a difference...we already have!

Sharon Mofield-Boswell

Anonymous said...

Dear Mrs. Mofield-Boswell,

Thank you for speaking up. You are a good parent, a concerned community member, and you are not a trouble maker. Please write your concerns about the STEAM Academy to Dr. Terry Holliday, Commissioner of Education. I genuinely believe that Tom Shelton should not have awarded a contract to his good friend.

Thank you for speaking up for the children of our district.

A grateful supporter.

Anonymous said...

Dear Sharon,

We support you. We are teachers who, while tenured, cannot give our names. It's disturbing working in a district with people like Lu Young, Vince Mattox, and Tom Shelton. They cry "finacial crisis" to make horrible cuts that affect kids.

We understand these people cannot allow any teachers to endanger their positions. But what can they do to a parent? The only thing theu can do is encourage Melissa Bacon to silence you at the microphone with her infamous, "You are out of order." We look to parents like yourself to voice their concerns. I hope you will consider picketing Central Office! And get the KEA people to join with you.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Sharon for being a part of Fayette County Public Schools. Thanks for asking good questions at Board Meetings!

Anonymous said...

Dear Sharon,

I am a teacher and I really respect your asking questions. Being part of the organizational structure at my school has meant obeying and not asking questions.

Please don't get discouraged in teh face of adversity. Many know that Dr. Shelton is behaving incorrectly-if not illegally. It's a matter of time before he departs.