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Topic: MCCSC Budget Committee Recommendations for Referendum Funds

  1. #1
    Established Member Eric's Avatar
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    Default MCCSC Budget Committee Recommendations for Referendum Funds

    I received a copy of the memo below. We do not know what the recommendations will be, but there is no indication whether a written version will be available in advance (so that people can provide their considered opinions) or if they really expect people to sit through an oral presentation and then respond immediately. I hope this is clarified quickly and in a sensible way. These meetings are next week, and a written presentation should be available by Friday if MCCSC officials do not intend these meetings to simply be a continuation of their ongoing dog-and-pony show. Hopefully they have learned something from the consistently poor attendance at the community coffees.

    I doubt that the recommendations will include specific details of how the needs in individual schools will be addressed, but I will withhold any additional predictions so that this budget committee has a full opportunity to present, in advance of next week's meetings, both their recommendations and a clear and complete timeline of the review process.

    ***********************************************
    Date: January 19, 2011

    To: All Media Outlets

    From: Beverly Smith, MCCSC Director of School & Community Services

    RE: MCCSC Budget Committee Recommendations for Referendum Funds

    The Monroe County Community School Corporation is seeking input on proposed plans to use the new funds generated from the passage of the November 2, 2010 referendum. The MCCSC Budget Committee will share these recommendations during public meetings on the following dates and times:

    * 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, January 26th in the University Elementary School Cafeteria
    * 7:00 p.m. Thursday, January 27th in the Summit Elementary School Gymnasium

    The 10-member MCCSC Budget Committee, chaired by MCCSC Comptroller Tim Thrasher, began meeting immediately after the passage of the referendum last fall. The meetings were filled with thoughtful deliberation, research and compromise, but the internal group fully acknowledges that public input is essential at this juncture:

    “We will do our very best to make good recommendations,” Thrasher shared at a recent MCCSC School Board Meeting. “But know we’re not bringing the board a fait accompli. We have no expectations that there won’t be changes, and we fully expect public input and board changes. We understand this must be an open process that’s valid.”

    During the public input session, the school community will have a chance hear directly from the Budget Committee as it presents the recommendations. The public will have an opportunity to offer feedback following the presentation.

    For more information, please contact Beverly Smith, Director of School & Community Services, at (812) 330-7700, Ext. 50263 or <removed for posting>.
    ###
    Sincerely,
    Beverly L. Smith
    Director of School & Community Services
    Monroe County Community School Corporation
    <removed for posting>
    (812) 330-7700, Ext. 50263

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    Default Re: MCCSC Budget Committee Recommendations for Referendum Funds

    This is good news. I hope Tim or a member of the Budget Committee will post their recommendations here in advance of the meeting. As you said, members of the public can make considered comments rather than having to think on their feet. Considered imput is generally more useful (not to mention coherent) than is off-the-cuff responses.

    I can't think of a more appropriate document to present in advance to the public, given the constant requests for transparency that have been expressed throughout the referendum process from getting it on the ballot to getting voters to the polls.

    It also shows the new "stockholders" in MCCSC how the funds raised by their voluntary tax hike are being considered being spent. This would be an excellent good will gesture for the supporters of current referendum.

    However, equally important, should the need arise to ask the public for support another referendum in the future, this can be one of the first examples to use when showing the public how the School Board handled the results of this one.
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    Default Re: MCCSC Budget Committee Recommendations for Referendum Funds

    the budget committee will most likely release the report to the Board of Education and school community some tome today or tomorrow, at which time it will be considered a public document.

    I am sure Tim Hyland or Tim Thrasher will be in communication with you.

    sue wanzer
    Board of Trustees, District 2
    Precincts: Salt Creek; Polk; Clear Creek 1,2,3; Perry 7,8,9,10,20,27,30

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    Established Member Eric's Avatar
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    Default Re: MCCSC Budget Committee Recommendations for Referendum Funds

    Dear Sue,

    Thank you, as always, for your prompt and clear reply. I hope that Tim or Tim will also release a copy to the H-T so that it is broadly available.

    Cheers,

    Eric

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    Default Re: MCCSC Budget Committee Recommendations for Referendum Funds

    I'm sure a copy here would be appreciated as well.
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  6. #6
    Established Member Eric's Avatar
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    Default Re: MCCSC Budget Committee Recommendations for Referendum Funds

    Shortly after 8:30 one day last week I heard Tim Hyland on WFIU. I have not contacted WFIU to get the actual clip, and I apologize in advance if I paraphrase this wrong, but my recollection is Tim said approval of the referendum was both good news and bad news. The good news was that MCCSC received much needed money. The bad news is that MCCSC never told this community how that money would be used, so now MCCSC has the hard work of making those decisions. He then went on to say that the increased funding only brings MCCSC from about the 25th percentile (in per student funding) to somewhere in the middle, and that there was still a long way to go, as though the goal was to become the most expensive school district in the state.

    Posted below are the paired statements that J.T. presented at the June 29th school board meeting, when they approved the resolution requesting that the school funding referendum be placed on the November 2nd ballot.

    A few critical things to note:

    Despite the efforts in the charrettes to get people to 'prioritize' what is important -- i.e., start fighting for special interests -- J.T. had to concede that "the message is clear, that the public and school community wants to restore what was lost in the expenditure reductions last February."

    Although the 4.55% state cut is correctly noted, the amont of money ($2.9 million) is not stated, and instead the focus was placed on the $5.8 million budget reduction, but this larger amont was needed only because the fiscal year is the calendar year, not the school year, so instead of being able to reduce costs by 4.55% for the entire calendar year, they needed to make huge reductions during the last four months of 2010 -- i.e., the first four months of the 2010-11 school year. This is why they got rid of so many teachers, but much of this was unnecessary because the budget reduction plan now has costs well below revenue in 2011 -- even without the referendum funding -- and the operational cash balance was projected by MCCSC (back in February) to grow by $3.1 million during 2011.

    The statement repeats what was said in February about the operating balance going down to $500,000 as MCCSC does the financial limbo dance to get under the stick on December 31st. Although we haven't seen the final numbers, Tim Thrasher now admits that the operating balance was over $1.2 million at the end of 2010. As things stand right now, the cash balance will grow to at least $4.3 million during 2011, and probably well over $5 million depending on source of the $700,000 difference between what was projected back in February and the reality come December 31st. As I have noted elsewhere, this 'extra' $700,000 meant that the ECA fund-raising effort was completely unnecessary, or alternatively that MCCSC could have spent $2.1 million more during the 2010-11 school year ($700,000 from the 2010 budget and $1.4 million during the 2011 budget) to keep teachers employed, and they should have known about this extra surplus before the school year started.

    The statement acknowledges the discussion at the time that the referendum question stated the maximum amount of the tax levy and "can be adjusted downward if the budget requirement do not call for this amount of revenue." Because MCCSC was running a $1.6 million deficit even before the $2.9 million state cut, the total deficit was $4.5 million. If the proposition of the referendum was to "restore what was lost in the expenditure reductions last February" then $4.5 million is the amount that MCCSC can legitimately claim.

    Finally, note the weasel-word when J.T. described what "could be restored with a successful referendum." The good-faith interpretation is the hypothetical statement that this is what could be done if the referendum were to be approved. However, in the discussion that is about to begin, you will see this as it was originally intended -- i.e., as a non-committal statement of what could happen in some parallel universe where you can trust what people say, but will not happen here.

    As Tim Hyland just reminded us, MCCSC never told our community how the referendum funding would be spent.
    Attached Thumbnails Attached Thumbnails coopman_referendum_recommendations.pdf   CoopmanGloom&Doom.pdf  

  7. #7
    Established Member Eric's Avatar
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    Default Re: MCCSC Budget Committee Recommendations for Referendum Funds

    Here is a copy of the Budget Committee Report.

    Does anyone have any observations or opinions?
    Attached Files Attached Files

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    Default Re: MCCSC Budget Committee Recommendations for Referendum Funds

    Yes. The two high school counseling position cuts were not mentioned anywhere that I can find (unless we are a part of the brief mention of "four certified non-teaching positions..."). Very confused here. It would literally be "insult to injury" if counselors were overlooked or if, purposely, our positions are viewed such that "four certified non-teaching positions" was a lumping of the two lost counselors along with two other certified non-teaching positions in the high schools.

    The loss of the two high school counselors has meant a counselor-student ratio of approximately 1/400...yes, 1/400 in the high schools (more in middle school...and only one of our elementary schools even has a school counselor). In addition, the remaining high school counselors have been given additional duties this year despite the loss of one of our colleagues. This has left passionate, student-caring, hard working, professionally trained (masters and doctoral) educators absolutely treading water...very little of prevention in what we're able to do for our kids now. We have become for the most part, testing coordinators, executive secretarial, administrator supporters (whatever is needed to help them complete their tasks), document creators, college transcript preparers, and very basic student needs addressers (when we have the time)... Despite the fact I go in on weekends, went in on snow days (only one in the building for awhile), get to school often at 6:15am...I am still barely able to keep up with just the minimum priorities. My colleagues feel the same way. I feel very sad for my students who have a counselor who only has a few minutes for them...who can't adequately address their academic and personal/social concerns anymore...who is under a stack of paperwork that needs to be "done NOW"... and who's years of training as a counselor are being set aside so that I may be the position in the school now that does whatever administrators need help getting done. Our poor secretary is inundated as well...that position has become a monster.

    Nevertheless...in the document just today placed on the website regarding the referendum committee's proposal for next year...not one word about school counselor renewal. I'm concerned clearly. I'm hoping I hear from Jan soon. I'm not sure what to make of this.

  9. #9
    Established Member Eric's Avatar
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    Default A Coherent MCCSC Strategy

    I submitted a letter to the editor today, which was limited to 200 words. Copied below is the expanded version of my brief submission. As always, my concern is with how decisions are made.

    **********************************
    The Monroe County Community School Corp. should present a coherent strategy for leadership, funding and educational reform. Candidates for the superintendent position should provide a written vision statement for our schools. Current MCCSC officials should not make decisions that commit all future resources. Educational reform should be discussed and planned by all stakeholders. A coherent strategy involves preparing for the 201112 school year, evaluating candidates to lead our public schools, and then empowering his or her leadership by deferring important decisions until next year.

    A standard element in any leadership interview is a vision statement for the organization. The vision statement is then evaluated by two criteria: 1) What are the merits of the stated vision? 2) Can this individual lead us to that goal? We have the opportunity to listen and evaluate the best available candidates for the superintendent position. Instead of telling candidates at the outset what they are supposed to do, let’s start by listening to what each candidate proposes. The person who will lead us well must have an inner vision that defines and motivates his or her approach to leadership.

    In the June 29 justification for the referendum Superintendent Coopman wrote that “the message is clear, that the public and school community wants to restore what was lost in the expenditure reductions last February.” The state cut $2.9 million. MCCSC was already running a $1.6 million deficit. These two numbers add to $4.5 million. MCCSC reduced their 2010 budget by $5.8 million because expenditures for the 200910 school year were already committed, and they needed to slash expenditures for the start of the 201011 school year to maintain a positive cash balance at the end of the 2010 fiscal year, which was December 31st.

    According to the budget reduction plan approved on February 19th, the 2010 operating balance was supposed to be a wafer-thin $528,633, but because of the success of the retirement incentive program, the 2010 operating balance (details not yet released) is over $1.2 million. The 2011 cost reductions totaled $6,002,118, but the 2011 operating (cash) balance was projected to INCREASE by $1,546,520. These are MCCSC’s own numbers. Do the math. The real deficit was only $4.5 million (or $4,455,598 if you subtract $1,546,520 from $6,002,118). If the extra $700,000 from the last four months of 2010 is annualized for 2011 (it would be nice to have the final numbers for 2010 available right now!), then MCCSC could have an extra $2.1 million during 2011 because they are employing fewer experienced (high pay-scale) teachers and more beginning (low pay-scale) teachers.

    I have very little confidence in the decision-making ability of people who cannot distinguish between the deficit and what was done in response to the deficit. At best they are confused, at worst they are dishonest, and it does not really matter who is what because the result is much the same: poor decision-making.

    So the restoration program may cost as much as $4.5 million. Yes, there may be a 1–2% average rise in certain costs, but this is trivial compared to the cost-savings of hiring more beginning teachers. Let’s focus discussion now on what needs to be done to restore the instructional programs and reduce class size for the 201112 school year. The extra $3 million of the $7.5 million referendum was to guard against future state cuts. This tax levy should be lowered to 0.0842 next year and only raised again, if necessary. The huge increase in operating balance this year will buffer MCCSC against annual inflation for years to come, even if the state holds K-12 school funding flat. Honoring the promises of the referendum and showing fiscal responsibility now will provide a much needed boost to the ‘trust factor’ which is at an all-time low.

    Educational reforms are needed, and these need to start with how the school board governs and how central administration administrates. Creating whole new categories of employees, while not addressing the known problems, is simply ill-conceived. Furthermore, the so-called reformations are not financially sustainable (according to the scant financial details provided in the budget committee’s presentation) because MCCSC almost immediately starts running a $1.3 million annual deficit that steadily cannibalizes the operating balance.

    So let’s do what should be done to restore teachers to the classroom. If the world language program wants fewer classes in French so that they can start offering classes in Chinese, then this may be a reasonable trade-off, but let’s start the discussions that are needed to get to this point instead of having some secret committee make these decisions for us.

    Then, let’s listen to what each superintendent candidate has to say. If every prospective superintendent wants a program of coaches, preventionists, and interventionists, then maybe this is a good idea. Fortunately, good ideas sell themselves and this should be the subject of a future referendum. Our new superintendent can use the donations made to the MCCS Foundation specifically for these activities to pilot-test these proposals and present evidence before asking voters to decide. Maybe this program will cost $2.5 million per year and maybe it will cost more. Maybe there will be a better plan that does not require an elaborate system of para-teachers. Whatever is done should be based on a clear track-record, not a political ploy of bait-and-switch.
    **********************************

    The really brief version is even simpler: It is stupid to commit all available resources just before trying to hire a visionary superintendent. Are these people incapable of developing a coherent strategy?


  10. #10
    Established Member Eric's Avatar
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    Default Public meeting at Childs Elementary School

    Can anyone report on yesterday's meeting?

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