The abridged version of 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 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, the 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 board specifies the duties and responsibilities of each committee. The appointments to the committees are made by the board president and with board approval. The appointed members are recruited 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 involve and educate the public, and gather suggestions from the public. The committees meet on publicly announced dates and location. 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 basis for developing the budget. (See the Half Hollow Hills SD screenshot.) In Nassau County, 22 school district communities (out of 56) have established various board committees and 35 communities use actual amounts as a starting point for developing their budgets.
The Malverne school district community is not among them. It has not established board committees that would facilitate the board’s governance and it doesn’t use actual amounts during the budgeting process. The 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 space for the public in MUFSD. The community eliminates itself—including the school board members—from the task of appropriating public funds. Instead of participating in the budget process, the community accepts the budgeted amounts of previous years compared to the currently estimated amounts as presented by the management. The owners of the public schools never learn the actual expenditures—and have not learned for decades.
The “budget-to-budget” accounting reminds the shell game (3 cups upside-down, 1 ball). One can only guess what amount actually lies under the “budgeted” line. The public owns the schools, but in order to dissociate them from the haphazard internal game of the management, the public needs to regain the sense of ownership. Publicly accessible school board committees facilitating the public governance are a necessary step on the path toward the community-led public schools.