Monday, October 26, 2009

Contemplating the Budget Blues

Normally this would have come out on Friday, but I had to take a rare sick day. Interestingly enough I was as nervous as anyone else who is not feeling well that I was getting H1N1! A day in bed, plenty of fluids, a low key weekend, and I am back in the saddle.

While I was out on Friday, the county health department announced that West Genesee School District will be holding a county run H1N1 vaccination clinic for children at some point during the latter part of November, in the evening. The county had released actual dates but are concerned about supply so they have told us they will have firm dates later in the week. As soon as I have more details, I will pass them along.

Last week I spent a lot of time listening to the budget blues. If you study school and state budgets nationwide, you will discover that band-aid fixes to budgets have not been working. States that do not use property tax to fund schools ran out of money about two years ago, and the schools in those states were not far behind. In California, all extracurricular activities were removed and no textbooks were purchased for this year, class sizes are near 60 in many schools, and many students do not speak English and there are no classes for them to help them learn.

Could New York State end up in the same mess? Probably not. Unfortunately, property tax is a component of the school balance sheet along with state aid. My best guess is that the state will make significant cuts to state aid to schools, and then will cap the amount that we can raise property taxes to 4% for a series of years.

This will do two things. First, it will force schools to raise property taxes to 4% which we have not had to do in years. That will certainly spread joy. Secondly, it will force us to use reserves that we have not planned on using. If things do not turn around, we will then have to make deeper program cuts. This will force discussion about merging schools and services as things continue. At the end of the day though, we will probably still offer better educational opportunities for the money than any other state in the nation. This does not mean that we shouldn’t look at changing the model to reflect the times. Then again, maybe nothing will change, and we will all go through this same garbage every year. These are just my thoughts after many years as Superintendent and looking through a national lens.

The bottom line is that whatever happens the next few years will be tricky at best, and could be devastating to what we know as public school education, at worst. I was once told that, “Life is tough, wear a helmet.” We will prevail and our children will get the best of what we have to offer!

This week will be full of building visits, policy review, budget calendar development, meetings, and whatever else comes my way. Enjoy your week as well.