April 26, 2010

Making Committees Choose Between Funds and Friends

Justin Katz

Chris Powell notes a strategy worth considering:

Nominations for Connecticut's mayor of the year should include Wallingford's William W. Dickinson Jr. for proposing, in the town budget he recently submitted to the Town Council, to reduce the school board's budget by exactly the amount the board planned to pay raises to teachers. The mayor thus clarified that school budgets aren't being cut but rather that school systems are being cannibalized by their employees.

The statement could be even more effective in towns that are between contracts — such as Tiverton. Especially in the case of financial town meetings, taxpayers could send a clear message that they've got a preference for certain line items in the district's budget.

When school committees are unwilling to force concessions beyond the point at which their budgets grow 6% (and are failing to achieve even those) during an historic recession and 2% inflation, it seems to me that some undeniable lessons from the people paying the bills are in order.

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In Hawaii there is one school district for the whole state (ranked 43rd in size with over 120 islands stretching near 1,600 miles) and it falls under state operations. The Department of Education falls under the Executive Branch (state governor) but is managed by the elected Board of Governors.

In order to balance the budget shortfall (due to you mainlanders not vacationing here in HI during the recession and spending 4% sales tax) Republican Governor Linda Lingle reduced the operating budget allocated to the school department forcing a 5% pay cut across the board and "Furlough Fridays" across all state departments and divisions. In other words all state offices including libraries are shut down on Fridays! This is for fiscal years 2010 and 2011 (state of HI operates on a 2 year budget).

To Republican Governor Lingle this looked good on paper and to her surprise the unions and NEA went along with the proposal. However, the Republican Governor is balancing the budget on the backs of school children who now have lost out of 17 educational school days making state of HI having shortest school year of 160 days in the nation (GA just passed a law requiring the school year in HI be 180 days)!

The parents have gone to court and are outraged that their children are not in school on Fridays. There has been a sit in at the governor's office which she had people arrested for trespassing and jailed. She publicly called the protesters misguided, did not meet with them and used the underground tunnel from the statehouse to her state provided residence Washington Place to bypass the protesters.

There is money in the bank for Republican Governor Lingle to release to put the children back in school and the Democratic GA has voted authorization to release the funds from special accounts for next year but the Governor has said in writing she wants the teachers to go back to work for three Fridays this year at no pay which the union has indicated is against the current signed contract with the governor. Every time we think there is an agreement with DOE, BOE and NEA to end this the governor throws in an extra wrinkle to create an impasse.

Personalities aside, Governor Lingle is a lame duck governor (2011 she is out) but she is not gaining points for the Republican Party in HI playing games with the children's education.

This recession and how the individual state's budgets are balanced can come back to haunt the political parties in later years.

Posted by: Ken at April 27, 2010 1:16 AM
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