Voters deserve to know what School Board candidates think about the Superintendent’s proposed budget, since adopting budgets is one of the School Board’s primary responsibilities each year. I’ve also heard from many in the community who want to understand the budget better so they can figure out whether and how to participate in the budget adoption process.
School system budgets are complicated and often long--the proposed APS budget is 544 pages of reading. Because of this, I’m going to break down my budget analysis into three installments, all of which you can expect this month.
Part One: Budget Process and Format
You might be asking, “Why is she talking about process and format? I want to know what might get cut since there’s currently a gap between expenses and revenue. I want to know whether we’re spending money on the right things.”
Two reasons for starting with process and format: first, I’m buying myself a little more time to finish going through the entire budget, which was published only a week ago. Second, I believe that we must make some changes to the budget process and format in the years ahead, and I hope you will join me in calling on APS staff and the School Board to do just that.
Here’s a big problem: there’s simply no good way for the public to read and understand the budget as it’s currently presented. People with the time and financial literacy skills needed to digest all the information are at a distinct advantage in advocating for programs and line items they care about--and that’s a real equity issue.
Does a school district budget have to be 500+ pages, inclusive of the “executive summary” which is 206 pages long? No.
Consider these nearby examples, all from school systems larger than our own:
We also need reforms in the budget process so that the community has time to understand and weigh in on the budget, and so that we’re making full use of the incredible talent and commitment within our citizen-led Budget Advisory Council (BAC).
Here’s how it’s currently working:
In Montgomery County, the Superintendent proposed a budget to the School Board on December 15. There were multiple public hearings and work sessions before the School Board adopted the budget two months later on February 9.
In Prince George’s County, the Superintendent proposed a budget on December 10, followed by public hearings in January and February before the budget was adopted and sent to the County Executive on March 1.
But you know what? We don’t have to look to other counties to come up with a better process--because our own Budget Advisory Council proposed one in the excellent End of Year Report it delivered to the School Board last June.
BAC members made thoughtful recommendations that will improve how budgets are structured and presented, and that will involve the BAC itself earlier and more meaningfully in the process--the way that citizen advisory councils are supposed to be engaged.
Recommendations that I endorse include:
Like the Budget Advisory Council, I also believe we may need to renegotiate the revenue sharing agreement with the County Board to establish a higher share for APS as a “funding floor.” BAC observes, “Doing this is merely acknowledging future deficit and political realities and serves mostly to traverse that territory ahead of the budget season instead of during it.”
Before BAC presented its end of year report to the School Board, it provided APS staff with an opportunity to review and comment on the report. Assistant Superintendent of Finance and Management Services Leslie Peterson and her team declined to do so.
I want to give them a pass for this in 2020, since they were dealing with a pandemic and working hard to close the FY21 budget gap. But moving forward, this has got to change.
We really need improvements in the process like the ones that BAC has proposed--and these are things I will work for as a School Board member. If you agree with me, I hope you’ll support my campaign.
Next week in Part Two of my budget analysis, I’ll cover the proposed expenditures. Then in Part Three, I’ll focus on the tiers of proposed cuts.
If this information was useful to you, I hope you’ll share it with friends and neighbors. In order to provide all kids with an excellent education, schools need financial resources, human talent (staff and volunteer), and capital resources (the facilities in which teaching and learning take place). The APS budget fuels all three--so we have to get it right.