Wednesday, November 16, 2011

MRJ 11/12 Article - Republican at Odds over Ed Budget

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.

My Opinion
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.


Tim White said...

Was it a publicly noticed meeting?

Based on who you said was involved, I'm guessing it was not an official meeting with minutes taken.

If my assumption is correct, why wasn't it an official meeting open to the public?

Tony Perugini said...

Not a publicly noticed meeting.

Why would an official meeting be necessary in this case? There was no quorum from either the TC or BOE. It was an informal meeting to discuss ideas for the budget.

Tim White said...

I didn't say an official meeting was necessary. But considering the concerns you've raised, it seems a publicly noticed meeting would've been appropriate and avoided a headache.

But it does get to a bigger issue that you understand better than most: transparency.

While you see a well-intended meeting, others may see a nefarious backroom deal.

I'm not saying you were up to no good in this meeting. I'm confident that your intentions were good. Regardless, the light of day is a good thing.

In the future you may want to insist any such meetings be open to the public. And if others insist on it being informal, then refuse to attend.

Just a suggestion!

Anonymous said...

If they were talking about the process what's the problem? You can't have cameras and newspaper reporters everytime someone talks. Good for these individuals for brainstorming. Give it a break TW.

Tim White said...

You can't have cameras and newspaper reporters everytime someone talks.

Where did I mention cameras and newspaper reporters? I didn't. I simply suggested open meetings.

Good for these individuals for brainstorming.

I agree.

Give it a break TW.

Give what a break? Tony described this situation as:



I don't want my Republican Party to be tarnished like that. So I offered my suggestion of public meetings.

Furthermore (while I don't know when BOE Finance Committee meetings are typically scheduled, I do know that), the Council Budget Committee normally meets before every regular Council meeting... and often before special Council meetings... as well as at other times. So that's probably an average of at least two meetings per month. And it seems to me that it would've been really easy to just tack this onto the agenda of a Council Budget Committee meeting... and invite Tony and GF.

That would've produced the same opportunity for discussion, yet avoided a black eye and an embarassing situation.

Breachway said...

does anyone have the link to article...cant find it

Tony Perugini said...

The article appeared in print but it's not online. I have access to it through my e-subscription. I emailed MRJ asking for permission to copy the article here.

Breachway said...

thanks Tony

Anonymous said...

LIttle Tiimmiee has many imaginary friends
He still thinks he can have influence
The Town Manager is still working
Little timmiee things he can still have a say
He does not

Breachway said...

If it wasn't for Tim, this blog probably wouldn't have been started and people would know a whole lot less regarding the inner workings of the town. You can disagree with his opinion and his frequent postings, but he put his time in and more for the people of Cheshire. I lived in his district and witnessed his door to door campaigns first hand. It was appreciated in the neighborhood. There should be a requirement that if you want to disparage someone, you sign your name instead of hiding behind anonymous...or least have a consistent moniker.

Tim White said...

Thank Breach. I really do appreciate it. No worries though. If I was concerned about the nonsense comments, I would've quit a long time ago. :)

Besides, I'm quite convinced that most (though not all) anonymous comments come from current and former elected officials. Rather than get upset about their foolishness, I pity them for their lack of conviction. Clearly, they're no John Hancock.

Tim White said...

And Breach... hope you and your family had a nice Thanksgiving... and the same to everyone else in TPL land!

Tony Perugini said...

Breachway is correct. If it wasn't for Tim White's blog I probably wouldn't have started this blog.

Tim's blog was/is an inspiration for me. I admire any elected official that's willing to discuss issues on the web and allow open discussion/criticism.

I wish more elected officials would spend time on the web discussing their viewpoints, issues, etc. It can be time consuming and does take some commitment. I don't know how Tim does it but he covers a LOT for us.

My only regret is that I wish I had more time to blog about more than just BOE topics.

Tim White said...

Thanks Tony.

Anonymous said...

Breechway is another one of Tims madeup friends