In the 11/12 MRJ paper Jesse Buchanan wrote an article "Cheshire Republican at Odds over details in education budget" about a meeting that occurred a few weeks back involving: Myself, Michael Milone, Tim Slocum, Greg Florio, David Schrumm. The topic of the meeting was the budget format and ways to improve upon it. Namely, the budget request that the Superintendent sends the TC each year. I was contacted by Jesse about the story just before the last storm hit. Jesse was notified of the meeting by a 3 page fax he received by someone at the meeting and indicated that the town council was trying to micromanage the education budget. I don't hide my views and needless to say I did not send the fax to Jesse. More on this later.
The article did not cover what actually transpired at the meeting. How could it? Jesse was not at the meeting and couldn't possibly articulate what was actually discussed. No offense to Jesse. Unfortunately, the article highlighted the disdain some folks have for one another, accusations, declarations of mistrust, etc. Whomever sent the fax to MRJ got their wish which was to produce an article that, if anything, paints the BOE and TC in not the best of light. It's actually embarassing.
For those folks that don't care for the drama, here's what transpired at the meeting. It's worth noting that David Schrumm reached out to us to open a dialogue about ways to streamline the education budget request. It's also worth nothing that many of the ideas presented have been discussed by this BOE already. For me, I saw this meeting as an opportunity to finally bridge a gap between the TC and BOE over the budget. For others, however, it was an opportunity to play politics.
The topic of grants and accounting for them was discussed. In the BOE budget book, there's a 1-2 page summary of the various grants utilized in the budget. A request was made to identify when the grants start/end as well as provide a short one paragraph summary about the grant. i.e. What is it used for? What expenses does it pay for? What opportunities does it create? If this request sounds familar then it should be because these are the questions parents have been asking the BOE on this topic throughout MANY budget workshops. This detail is not included in the budget.
Accounting & Accounts
MUNIS. A request was discussed to utilize the MUNIS system, specifically, the account format that the town departments utilize. Looking at the town's budget book, each account contains a detailed write up about it. The write up lists, among other things, assumptions being made, any unforeseen issues, calculation definitions, etc. Compare that to the BOE accounts listed in the budget book and that level of detail does not exist. Simply expand upon it in MUNIS and be done with it.
Expenditures: We discussed expanding our budget accounts to include FY '11 ACTUAL Expenditures, FY '12 Appropriated Expenditures, FY '12 Estimated Expenditures and FY '13 Projected Appropriation. Essentially expanding the columns in our budget to reflect the town budget format.
Expenditure Reductions: The BOE Operating Budget bottom line number DOES NOT reflect the true cost of the operating budget. The $61.3M BOE budget this year does not reflect the true cost. I briefly discussed this in the spring. Why? Because of how grants are accouted for in MUNIS. Say, for example, GRANT A, totaling $100K is used to pay for certain textbook and transportation expenses frelated to this grant as they are incurred during the school year. The grant is NOT reflected as revenue in the BOE Budget. The Texbooks account does not have a projected amount budgeted for this grant. Transportation does not have projected amount budgeted for this grant. One reason for this is because we don't know how much these expenses will be and how much of the grant we'll actually use. This makes it difficult to budget for these specific expenses. But it also underestimates what we actually spend on students in our school district. At the end of the school year, we'll spend more than $61.3M on education. Perhaps as much as $63M or 64M based on how much if the special funding is utilized. This number is not reflected in the budget.
In other words, we do not report the true cost of educating a student in the Cheshire school district. Is this evidence of hiding or malicious accounting? Absolutely not. The complexities and rules found in some of these grants make it a nightmare to capture in MUNIS. However, they can be documented, detailed and summarized in the budget book.
I gave a brief review about the meeting. I'll add more later. Almost all of the items I mentioned above were items that the BOE have or are addressing so it's nothing new to us. Much of the information requested already exists in other formats for the BOE. I've been pontificating about clarifying and streamling the BOE budget since I was elected. These changes and others are not just my wishful thinking but that of many folks in town that get the "Deer in the headlights" look every year during the budget meetings. Consider that it takes 3 BOE Budget Workshops to explain the education budget which is articulated by Dr. Florio. When those meetings are over folks walk away with more questions than answers. Simple FACT: The budget can be much clearer, concise and self-explanatory. These changes discussed would get us there.
It's unfortunate that someone chose to turn this positive meeting into a politically-fueled article attacking certain individuals. Certainly, this makes for good reading. But it undermines the efforts of myself and others that are trying to educate the public and foster more open dialogue between the TC and BOE.
This article is a black-eye on the face of Cheshire and how it came to be is cowardly at best.