Live Animal Discussions Important – It’s the Lack of Budget Discussion that Concerns Me and the Likely $8 Million in Cuts Going to Schools on Monday, April 3rd

Dear School Board Members:
When I looked at the School Board calendar for March, what jumped out at me was the lack of any Finance and Operations committee meetings on 06-07 budget issues even though a) allocations go to schools on April 3rd and b) tonight the School Board majority will likely vote to pay for the debt service on an addition to Leopold with what could amount to an additional $350,000 cut from the operating budget.
What I did see were meetings on Live Animals in the Classroom. My concern was not so much that I saw Live Animals in the Classroom on the agenda (although I wish this issue had been resolved positively and fairly when it first came up 1.5 years ago, I support and mean no disrespect to the members or the work of this committee) but that budget discussions were missing. Earlier this calendar year I was left with the impression that the Superintendent had informed the School Board that March would be filled with discussions about the budget.
I did see important issues such as the Equity Task Force meeting and board discussions about boundaries and schools, but I did not see any discussions about the budget scheduled, and I do not yet see any formal meetings re the budget on the School Board calendar as yet.
In her email to PTO Presidents, Carol Carstensen said the School Board decided not to consider cuts until after the School Board has the entire budget and they will have the document sooner this year rather than later this year, but not until the end of April, or thereabouts. I and others have made suggestion along these lines in previous years – you do want to discuss cuts in the context of the entire budget; however, the devil is in the details and that is where I have concerns.
The budget timeline the School Board is working from says the administration is going to send out allocations to schools on April 3rd. Straight forward administrative task – once again the devil is in the details. In his email to me, Superintendent Rainwater said that the timing of allocations is driven by the union contract deadlines for layoff notices (late May) and surplus notices (July 1 but MMSD gives them in mid-April). Also, Mr. Rainwater informed the School Board earlier this year that the District would be facing $8 million in cuts next year.
Now, as the Superintendent informed me, many things go into allocations. However, he will have $8 million less next year than he felt would be needed, so $8 million in cuts will have to be made. The question is when and how will these cuts be made? If the union deadlines drive the April 3rd date, then I would expect cuts will be included with the allocations that go out to schools on April 3rd as has been the case in preceeding years. If that is the same this year, I feel the School Board and the public needed to know what budget framework is being used to send out the allocations – class sizes, courses, etc. I feel there needed to be public discussions about this.
School Board members tell the public that final decisions about cuts are their decisions. That’s true, but in practice it is not. By the time allocations are determined in mid-May, there will be little opportunity for the public or the School Board to have much, if any discussion about the budget and the $8 million in cuts. I don’t agree with that. I think it is bad policy.
I believe live animals in the classroom are important. Re this issue, I only wish that more progress had been made by now – I looked up references to this as far back as Fall 2004. My daughter attended Franklin Elementary School and visited Mary Powell’s classroom – so did I! Re. live animals in the classroom, I think we need a board policy that makes this experience part of our children’s education. I guess I thought the existing policy, as Mary Powell pointed out in Fall 2004, addressed the issue.
Barb Schrank