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Archive for Saturday, July 21, 2012

Closed process

July 21, 2012

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Close to half of the property taxes paid by Lawrence residents go to the Lawrence school district. That means local taxpayers should have more than a passing interest in the school district’s budget.

Unfortunately, the budget process followed by school district officials isn’t very conducive to meaningful budget input from the public or even members of the board.

On Monday, the Lawrence school board is scheduled to receive, discuss and approve for publication the district’s 2012-13 budget — all in one meeting. The board probably has some knowledge of what that budget will include, but according to an agenda memo from the district staff, the actual budget forms are still being compiled and won’t be available — even to board members — before Monday night. At that time, the administration will present budget information to the board, after which the board can discuss the budget and perhaps propose changes. However, they are expected to approve the budget for publication by the end of the meeting.

The budget that is published will set the maximum budget authority and property tax levies for the coming year. The public will have an opportunity to comment on the budget at a public hearing Aug. 13, but that will be after the budget is published when there is no opportunity for either the board — which has had one meeting to absorb the budget’s impact — or the public to add any funding.

Granted, given the current uncertainty about state funding for K-12 public schools, this probably isn’t the year to add more spending to the budget, but the fact that district administrators expect school board members to review and rubber-stamp the district’s budget in one meeting is troubling.

For instance, in some years, members of the board or public might want to fight to restore funding for a program that has been cut from the budget or provide funding for a new program. Even if board members or the public want to work to reduce the budget, why leave that discussion until after the budget has been published?

By contrast, both Lawrence and Douglas County administrators allow significant time for city and county commissioners to go over and perhaps hear public comments on their proposed budgets. City and county budget proposals are discussed in open meetings or study sessions and are completed and available to the public at least a week or two before commissioners approve them for publication.

Maybe there is something different about school budgeting that justifies the compressed time line that makes it difficult for taxpayers to have input, but it isn’t apparent. This is a big chunk of local tax money, and taxpayers deserve a more transparent budget process.

Comments

Carol Bowen 1 year, 9 months ago

I've lived hear for over thirty years. The school board has never had open discussion. It's almost impossible to get on their agenda. Do they have open comments on the agendas yet?

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George Lippencott 1 year, 9 months ago

guess that year in that local the teachers did not understand it either.

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buffalo63 1 year, 9 months ago

As a former teacher, it was rather disconcerting to learn that money in the budget was not being spent how it was presented, but rather moved into special projects. One year I discovered the district had budgeted $1000 per classroom for educational supplies, but the teachers were never told. Money not spent by the end of the year was moved into the capital outlay for a new football field, not unlike what occured in Lawrence a few years ago. Budgets may be complicated, but not if the administration is straight with the Board and the public, but then again athletic fields might have been built correctly if the process was open and aboveboard.

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George Lippencott 1 year, 9 months ago

Fortunately I note this editorial did not draw a lot of comment. I for one agree that an open process is desirable. If I understand correctly all that has been done here is to cap expenditures. Since we are at our local option cap already that point sounds moot.

I suspect that if someone has a recommendation for an improvement with an offsetting reduction the board and administration will more than consider it. Otherwise ranting about resources that are not there is useless – less than useless.

I sure would like to better understand our finances. Money comes from federal, state and local sources. I suspect that federal and perhaps state money comes with restrictions that do not allow us to use it on other than what it is for. I further suspect that many of the things that are routinely argued to be “administration” are probably required by the source of the funding.

I, like many citizens, to not have the time to research all the puts and takes. I suspect that board does not have the time to educate the many real and self-appointed players. Perhaps the LJW could do the community some good by running a series that helps us understand.

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cato_the_elder 1 year, 9 months ago

"...the fact that district administrators expect school board members to review and rubber-stamp the district’s budget in one meeting is troubling."

Agreed in spades, but that's exactly what's been going on within the USD 497 Board of Education since Carl Knox retired in the mid-'80s. Spend, spend, spend, with too little money going to what directly enables kids to learn and far too much money going to administrative costs and programs that create unnecessary burdens on teachers.

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lunacydetector 1 year, 9 months ago

it is a closed process because they spend money like kiddies in a candy store, and they never have enough money.....please add some more flat screen televisions in the hallways that are integrated into the computer system so someone in the school doesn't have to actually hand print a sign of what's being served for lunch, or early release will be wednesdays - every wednesday.

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