School budget Sheffield’s responsibility, with consent of the board of education
Superintendent LaVonne Sheffield chose not to communicate with the elected board of education about the budget development, but instead formed a 2012 budget committee in such a way that the committee was not subject to the Open Meetings Act, even though their private discussions centered on how $404M of our tax dollars could possibly be spent.
The committee met with Cedric Lewis, the financial director and other Sheffield staff members. These meetings were usually held during the day, when some of the board members had to work and were unable to attend, and none of the public was invited, even with 15 years experience in municipal school financing, as I can attest, having been asked to leave the committee’s second meeting by Cedric Lewis and the board’s attorney.
The committee made recommendations, depending on how many are implemented, that could save up to $47M, with revenues up to $4M to balance the $51M deficit forecast for 2012 budget, according to Tuesday’s Print Exclusive in the Rockford Register Star.
One problem is there are vast dollar ranges with the recommendations made by the committee and the reasons why these areas for reduction were suggested over others are unclear, because the discussions were held in secret and these details were not made available in the committee’s PowerPoint presentation.
Without getting into the details of the individual recommendations, the revenue increase could net between $1M – $4M, with cuts in the range from $18M – $47M, a large deviation. Adding the ranges from the lowest revenue with the lowest combinations of cuts is $19M to a high of $51M.
The recommendations were purposefully vague on details such as, “Reduce Health Care Costs,” “Require all staff to contribute to pension plans” and “Consolidate Schools” because, as one member of the committee stated, the board was elected to make these decisions. I agree. But then two designated board members should have been allowed to be part of the entire budget committee process to understand the rationale behind the committee recommendations.
At the next board meeting, Sheffield will offer her suggestions to the school board. So with all these recommendations in their lap, the board is NOW brought in to the process to make the final decisions when they have not been privy to the rationale developed over months of study by the committee.
Will the board have to pick from these recommendations. How could they choose other proposals, not having been part of the committee discussions? Does the board even know if there were other recommendations discarded along the way that they might have selected?
Why didn’t Sheffield’s cabinent and finance director get the board up to speed earlier in the process? Why a 2012 budget committee? What was the reason? Why did the committee meet in secret? There are timelines, dealing with the teacher’s contract, state law, etc. that have to be met and the board is only now being brought into the picture!
Are any of the 2012 budget committee members going to meet with the board and discuss the rationale behind their recommendations? Where is Sheffield’s leadership?
Also, why is it up to the board to give the administration direction on the budget, when they were excluded from the process. The taxpayers pay Sheffield and her immediate cabinent advisors probably close to $1M dollars a year. Taxpayers pay the board nothing.
This is the same shifting of responsibility that was debated when I was on the school board, when the powers that be wanted to shift the blame to the board for the annual deficits, not the people spending the money. It’s Sheffield’s responsibility, with the consent of the board to make the required cuts, not the other way around!