District 25 Needs a Reality Check
- 1 February 2009 by Author 0 Comments
District 25 Needs a Reality Check
By Richard Larsen
Published – Idaho State Journal, 02/01/2009
It appears that our local school district administrators live in an alternative universe where in spite of difficult financial times, they feel justified in asking tax payers for more. On February 10, we have the opportunity to vote on a levy that will add $1.5 million to their $6 million levy already in place. As voters and patrons, we can infuse a hefty dose of reality into the administrative offices by voting no.
Businesses are reducing payrolls, the state is cutting its budget based on revenue projections, municipalities and counties are revising downward their budgets for the coming year, and School District 25 is asking for more. There really seems to be a disconnect from reality.
I don’t know anyone who is not supportive of quality education, but at some point accountability, realism, and budgetary restraint must be manifest by the district. I know there are areas that are underfunded at the district level, and there are costs often referred to as unfunded mandates. Some of those are not “unfunded mandates,” but simply require investments by the district to obtain the funding, as with No Child Left Behind. That makes those “investments” with calculable returns based on performance, not unfunded mandates.
What is required is a system of priorities by which those programs that have the highest impact on learning are funded, while administrative costs, travel, junkets, and “wish list” items are reduced. What should be heavily scrutinized is administrative compensation levels, expense allowances, and staff positions at the central office. When cash flow is tight, all cost centers should be reexamined and priorities reestablished in favor of the teachers who are doing the heavy lifting in meeting the educational mandate of the district.
I fear that the board and administration got a little greedy by tacking on the additional $1.5 million. I probably would have been willing to vote for the levy at the current $6 million level. The district was in line to receive about $1.5 million from the state for increased district headcount of 255 students, since they receive about $6,000 per student. That’s probably negated by the state holdback in funding. It just sends the wrong message that they want to continue to dig deeper into our pockets at a time when our pockets have little in them.
What I fear is that administrators will threaten evisceration of academics and teacher support and supplies rather than make the more difficult yet responsible move to reduce overhead and administrative costs like they should. There doesn’t have to be a causal relationship between reduction of administrative costs and dilution of educational quality as provided by our outstanding teachers. It may be an opportune time to examine how the district Curriculum Director and the Curriculum Coordinator can be merged into one position, for example, without diminishing funding where it really matters most, at the classroom and teacher level. With a 2008-2009 budget of $97 million, certainly there are places to reduce costs without adversely affecting the classroom.
I’m bothered that the superintendant has been meeting with faculty and staff at the various schools throughout the district on school time promoting passage of the levy. That’s not supposed to be done. Of additional concern is the fact that we can vote at any of the locations for the election. I sure hope the integrity of the system is such that they’d catch it if someone chose to vote at all of them.
Certainly these are challenging times for our educational system, as they are for all of us. True leaders rise during such times and make the difficult decisions on reduction of costs and personnel to match revenue. We see the legislature wrestling with those issues as we speak. It would be most refreshing to see school district 25 leaders do the same.
Richard Larsen is President of Larsen Financial, a brokerage and financial planning firm in Pocatello, and is a graduate of Idaho State University with a BA in Political Science and History and former member of the Idaho State Journal Editorial Board. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.