Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Calling on the Kuna school board to hold open budget hearings

With the Kuna school district administration predicting $3.8 million in cuts in next year’s budget, a 14 percent reduction in revenue is a daunting task that will need everyone’s expertise and input.
I know that a budget reduction team is working on possible cuts and will be reporting back to the school board, who will then make the final decision.
My biggest concern, though, is that school board members aren’t involved enough in the process.
I would like to point out just a couple of minor items from last year’s budget as a case in point.
During last year’s budget talks, school board members voted to eliminate midday bus transportation by changing the kindergarten schedule for many Kuna kindergartners from all-day-half-day to full-day-alternate-day. The estimated savings came to about $100,000.
But now we’ve come to find out that during teacher contract negotiations last year, the district agreed to give raises to 41 teachers based on achievement of higher education. The cost of the raises was about $76,000. On top of that, as reported in the Kuna Melba News on April 14, the district also agreed to partially pay those same teachers part of their expenses to take those classes, to the tune of $140 per credit for a total expenditure of about $52,000.
If you combined those two expenses, the district spent about $128,000, more than enough to avoid changing the kindergarten schedule.
Eliminating these raises and education payments was never an option presented to the public. Changing kindergarten was a line item with an estimated saving, but there were no line items that said, “Eliminate education raises for teachers, savings: $76,000,” “Eliminate paying for teacher education, savings: $52,000.”
I don’t know whether school board members knew about the raises and the payments for the education credits, but they certainly did not come up during any budget discussions.
To the contrary, I was under the (false) impression that the school district had eliminated all raises for the 2009-10 fiscal year. Raises for experience were indeed eliminated, but apparently raises for college courses was still approved.
Changing the kindergarten schedule may have still been the right thing to do. Giving teachers raises and paying for part of their education may very well still have been the right thing to do. But these things were never discussed openly during last year’s budget process.

You can read more of this opinion in this week's Kuna Melba News.

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