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April 20, 2011

On the Madison School District's 2011-2012 Budget

Madison School Board Member Ed Hughes:

First, we need to adopt a preliminary budget so that we can get any necessary layoff notices issued before our deadline. This requires us to resolve the OT/COTA issue, since the superintendent has recommended issuing layoff notices to our COTAs. But no other layoff notices are in the works for the Board to consider. (There could be some layoffs attributable to shifting enrollment levels among our schools, but the Board tends not to get involved in these.) This lessens the urgency and reduces the scope of our budget deliberations.

Second, it seems likely that we will spend less time on individual Board member's proposed budget amendments this year. In the past, Board members have generally had two primary motives for offering amendments. The first was to find alternatives for unappealing budget recommendations. We don't have a slew of unappealing recommendations this year. The second motive has been to reduce what a Board member considered to be an unacceptably large increase in our property tax levy. That shouldn't be an issue this year.

Individual Board members may come up with some sound and beneficial budget recommendations this year, of course. At this point, I don't expect to offer much in the way of amendments myself, since I'm aware of no low-hanging fruit and I'm not much in favor of trying to effect policy changes through the budget amendment process.

Third, our budget deliberations (and our recent extension of our collective bargaining agreements) have been shaped primarily in response to the Governor's budget recommendations. The budget bill is unlikely to pass before the end of June. Our budget choices are affected by the final form the budget bill takes. What happens with our underlevy authority is the most obvious example.

Under the circumstances, if we pass a preliminary budget before final action on the budget bill, our budget will be really, really preliminary. A lot of the heavy lifting budget-wise - like what to do with our underlevy authority, if it survives - can't take place until after June.

There are some other reasons as well why it makes sense to defer substantive budget deliberations to later in the year. For example, it would be helpful to know how our fund balance will look at the end of the fiscal year on June 30 and how it's changed from last year. We'd also be in a better position to make smart choices for next year if we have a clearer idea of how our 2012-2013 budget is looking and the more time passes, the clearer those numbers will come into focus.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at April 20, 2011 10:09 PM
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