Column: Better communication needed between aldermen, BOE
The Board of Aldermen president read this statement during the joint meeting of the Board of Apportionment & Taxation and Board of Aldermen meeting on Wednesday, April 10, and submitted for publication.
The Board of Education (BOE) format as submitted this year is a step in the right direction and is to be applauded given the newness of your finance director, who we hope will be in that position for many years. It is a sign of improved cooperation between our administrators. However, it is not where we hoped it to be, and it is obvious at this point that we need to continue this good effort.
The Board of Aldermen (BOA) expected to receive (the BOE) budget in the same format as the city budget showing current year activity with full backup details for each item. Without that backup, our evaluation will be more difficult. We ask your continued cooperation to make this happen.
Your earlier inquiry regarding an early capital commitment for the purchase of books was discussed, but, “given the uncertainties of the state budget demands and fiscal restraints facing the city, the BOA felt it too early to make a commitment. They wanted to receive and review all capital requests before making any commitments.
There has been no initiative on the part of the BOE to further inform the BOA/fiscal authority regarding plans for the issues brought up at last year’s budget meeting which drove that funding request. Those were the “one-on-one program” and the “top 25 percentile initiative.” We note that a full year has passed. We did hear a rumor that a one-on-one pilot program has been initiated which causes us to ask, if true, how much was spent and where that money came from. If money was spent for this initiative, it had to come from elsewhere within your budget and we ask if this could be driving the reported current year deficit. If we are to make fiscal judgments on your program needs, we need to fully understand what you are asking so we can better decide where to apply the limited available funding. An example of this was replacement of the teachers’ desktop computers, which resulted from a “hands-on” school tour where the BOA representatives saw firsthand the resulting productivity problem. We need to build on these successes.
We understand from the city finance director that when the BOE adopts its fiscal year 2019-20 budget that the line items will show a column for account transfers and that there will be an initial joint review of your adopted budget with the BOA and, in addition, there will be quarterly reviews as well as a year-end joint budget review. We applaud this as another step to promote a better understanding between our boards and the public.
An example of the team effort I am speaking of took place this year, when Dave Gioiello and I met and discussed ways to build understanding and cooperation among our boards. Dave then proposed and the BOE passed his motion to provide the BOA with a copy of your adopted budget and to offer quarterly and year-end meetings amongst our boards. This was a great initiative that will allow us to talk directly to each other about budget details whether they are positive or negative. Thanks, Dave.
School room supplies are a perpetual area of concern because it is an easy area to allocate money and then not release the funds and to blame the city for not providing enough funding. Even when the city made a special school supplies allocation, classrooms lacked paper and supplies. A closer BOE/BOA budget review on a quarterly basis may put an end to this travesty where the student, teachers and the learning experience are the most directly affected.
As reported by the media, “level funding” is not an accurate description of the mayor’s BOE budget recommendation for fiscal year 2020 as there is a $1 million plus difference between what is being paid for bus service in fiscal year 2019 versus what will be paid in fiscal year 2020, and, in addition to that, the BOE bus service costs are capped at $3.1 million. That’s a good deal. That’s also a deal that was available to the BOE in fiscal year 2018-19. Had you accepted our offer, you may not be facing a budget deficit now.
I believe we all (BOA/BOE/Board of Apportionment & Taxation) volunteer to serve for all the right reasons. One of the reasons we volunteer is to make sure that our children get a good education. Nobody denies that. In order to accomplish that goal, we need a team effort based on trust and commitment where fiscal decisions are made based on demonstrated need and measured accomplishment. We should be holding each other responsible for sharing that team effort and the way we do that should be to share information and examine new concepts/programs/ideas throughout the year, not just at budget time. I am optimistic that the new budget format and the proposed BOE budget adoption meeting, quarterly budget and year-end review will produce better results and more open communication.
John Anglace is president of the Board of Aldermen.