by Genevieve Demos Kelley
If you have questions and concerns about the Board of Education’s requested operating budget for FY 2016, consider attending either the May 7 or May 11 community discussion with the Board of Education. (For locations and more details, see the flyer.) I attended the first in the series of three meetings on April 27, and I was pleased with how worthwhile it turned out to be.
First, let me qualify my enthusiasm just a bit: Not every moment was a valuable use of my time. The meeting was in two parts. It started with at least 30 minutes of vague generalities about the school system’s core values and mission, and comments about the need for full funding of the FY2016 budget. The substantive information gleaned from this portion of the meeting could have been easily squeezed into five minutes. (Fortunately, I had brought my hard copy of the requested operating budget, so I had material to study when my attention waned.)
We heard about the CEO’s plans to spend the additional $91.7 million requested in the amended budget, but they were so vague that they were essentially meaningless. Here’s how he wants to spend the money:
- Academic Excellence
- High-performing workforce
- Safe and Supportive Environments
- Family and Community Engagement
- Additional Priorities
See what I mean?
But the “table talk” portion of the meeting that followed more than made up for it. Board of Education members each sat at a different table, answering questions and listening to concerns from the attendees. My table was fortunate to have Dr. Daniel Kauffman, an appointed Board of Education member, speaking with us. We expressed our concerns about a wide variety of issues, and we peppered him with questions. He listened to them all and never once dodged or dismissed a question. He also broke down the vague spending categories listed above into specific items with dollar amounts attached. (Go here for more information.)
At the end of the meeting, when he could not answer all of our questions about the FY 2016 budget, he called two senior staff members of the budget office to our table. Yes, that’s right. We were able to sit down with the interim CFO and the PGCPS budget director and actually ask questions about the budget and get answers. This was pure gold.
Based on that conversation, I got the distinct impression that the budget office was striving to increase budget transparency. They are working on a new budget template for next year, one that should be easier to understand. That’s great news for those of us who have tried, and failed, to understand the ins and outs of the operating budget.
This meeting was well worth my time. It helped answer some of my questions. It gave me a platform for some of my concerns. And it gave me a glimpse of what a responsive school system can look like.