The abridged version of the following post, titled “The school budgeting process needs public input,” appeared in LI Herald on August 10th, 2017. (In print only). Here is the full text of the article, including references.
Every year, school district communities across the New York State develop budgets for the public schools. Their efforts culminate in winter by a series of workshops before the budget vote in May. At the end of June, adjustments to the budget are released (see William Floyd SD adjustment) and a new cycle of budget development starts with the school board reorganization in July.
In New York, public schools are governed by the local Boards of Education (BOE). In the effort to help the board members fulfill their tasks, the communities create standing and ad hoc (temporary) board committees. Repetitive/annual tasks (i.e. budget, facilities, curriculum) require standing committees. Ad hoc committees are formed for short-term tasks (i.e. bond development, employee search, school reorganization).
The school board specifies the duties and responsibilities of each committee. The school board president appoints members of the committees. The members may be from the BOE, administration, school staff, and the community. In addition to working with the BOE members and administrators, the function of each committee is also to engage and educate the public and gather suggestions from the public. The committees meet on publicly announced dates and locations. Their sessions are open to the public.
Usually, several school board members are appointed to a Budget committee at the July board reorganization meeting. The budget adjustment and prior years of actual expenditures serve the committee members as a foundation for developing a new budget. (See the Half Hollow Hills SD screenshot.) In Nassau County, 22 school district communities (out of 56) have established various board committees, 35 school districts respect their communities, and use actual expenses as a starting point for developing their budgets.
The Malverne school district community is not among them. It has not established a single board committee that would facilitate the board’s governance and it doesn’t use actual expenses during the budgeting process. The school district’s budget development policy states:
“Budget planning will be a year-round process involving participation of District-level administrators, Principals, Directors, Chairpersons, teachers, and other personnel.”
There is no word about public participation in the budgeting process. The policy eliminates the community members, including the school board members from the task of appropriating public funds. Instead, the Malverne school district management presents the community budgeted amounts from previous years and the currently budgeted amounts for a new budget. The stakeholders of the public schools never learn the actual expenditures—and have not ever questioned that fact.
The “budget-to-budget” accounting the Malverne school district management exercises remind the 3 shell game (3 cups upside-down, 1 ball). You can watch the point here. One can only guess what amount actually lies under the “budgeted” line. The covert process reflects on the respect the school board members and the district managers hold for the school district stakeholders. The publicly accessible budget committee should be among the first committees the stakeholders create.