Submitted by John Arbeeny.
Budget Timeliness and Timelines
Have you seen the proposed CPSD budget briefing that will be presented during a public hearing, 7/11/22, at 5:00 PM? That’s because it hasn’t been released to the very public that is supposed to be commenting upon it during the budget public hearing! How many of the public participated in previous budget meetings? Zero? How’s that for planning? And how can you expect the CPSD Board to vote to pass the budget in its final form on 7/11/22 that was only briefed to them at the Board workshop on 6/22/22? I would have thought the expenditure of $254,000,000 in tax payer funding would have required a bit more deliberation.
CPSD Board agenda items published at the last minute with scant detail, like this budget public hearing, are far too common and stifle community involvement in District business. These agenda items often come so late (Friday before Monday Board meeting) that Board members barely have time to read, research and prepare an intelligent response to Superintendent and administration directives and recommendations and just forget about the public!
This has to change NOW. When you design a system to fail, which all but eliminates public participation while creating a rubber stamp Board, then indeed it will succeed at failing. The budget hearing is just the latest example.
But there’s more to take issue with than just the untimely and cryptic scheduling of the budget hearing: it’s the budget briefing and budget itself that are terribly flawed.
Budget Isolation From Other Accountability Board Goals
In his briefing on Academic Competence during the Board workshop on 6/22/22, Deputy Superintendent Laubach showed the Accountability for Board Goals consisting of #1 Student Growth/Achievement, #2 Parent and Community Engagement, #3 Communications with Stakeholders, #4 Supportive Learning Environment for Students, #5 Recruitment, Retention and Professional Development. These 5 were then pared down to just #1, #2, #3, with no discussion of either #4 or #5 as though they have no impact upon achievement of Goal #1 Student Growth/Achievement. Conspicuously absent from both lists was #6 Fiscal Responsibilities of which the budget is a key component. Why was #6 missing completely? Does it not have a major influence upon achievement of Goal #1 Student Growth and potential impact on Goals #2 through #5?
Apparently not so according to Superintendent and administration: the budget seems to exist in a vacuum apart from the other Goals. Yet budgets aren’t just about spending or accounting for money; they are about accomplishing goals and the most significant goal of any school district is Goal #1 Student Growth/Achievement. To accomplish those goals the goals must be stated specifically with respect to the budget otherwise there is no way to judge accountability for goal accomplishment beyond just accounting for the expenditure of funds.
Budget Lack of Specificity
This budget briefing (and I suspect budget itself) is flawed because it is devoid of any specificity regarding goals and specific budget items tasked for their accomplishment. For instance, not once is a specific school with special needs or program designed to meet that need mentioned in the budget briefing. There’s nothing here except sterile numbers without any context of what they represent beyond the current fund balance, income, expenditures and remaining balance. What is there for the public or Board members to comment on? Is a $254,000,000 budget too much, too little, “just right” or perhaps irrelevant? There’s no way to judge.
Budgets need specificity in the form of different funds for different purposes and a detailed list of each of those proposed projects and goals that these lines of expenditure seek to address. Without that context, the budget is just a bunch of numbers. That context is missing entirely from the budget briefing: there is zero specificity. If you want to see specificity, go to the City of Lakewood budget which is far smaller but rich in specifics. This level of specificity allows the Board to know how much is being spent by whom, when on what and why and make the necessary adjustments to fit the Board’s priorities rather than leaving that in the Superintendent and administration to decide.
Budget Review and Extended Horizon
This budget briefing lacks a discussion of the District’s educational problems and goals as the context within which the budget exists. It lacks a strategic plan that stretches beyond just 2023 as per the current 2018-2023 Action Plan, the horizon of which is fast approaching. Budgets today will have an impact on the future but only if that horizon is extended out every year rather than waiting for it to arrive without any planning beyond.
By any measures 2018-2022 has been an academic disappointment for the District yet there hasn’t been any real planning for 2023 and beyond. I guess they’ll figure it out in 18 months. Indeed the Superintendent’s contract negotiations don’t wait until the contract it about to expire. Rather, it is a moving horizon that constantly extends 2 years into the future. So it should be with the District’s academic Action Plan: updated annually and extended 5 years into the future annually. That’s the only way to plan for the future today before the future arrives tomorrow.
Budget Strategic Goals by Fund by School
Let me suggest that there should be three strategic goals that are addressed by the budget that head the District in the right direction.
#1 Short term academic triage. Strategic doesn’t always mean years ahead. Sometimes it means absolutely right now and fast! The strategic goal of triage is to stop the “bleeding” now to save a life so that future near/mid-term intervention and long term remediation can occur. Without triage, you lose the patient now and nothing else matters thereafter. The District faces several schools that are bleeding to death educationally and have been in some cases for years. This must be addressed immediately in this budget.
Here are schools requiring immediate triage and their ranking percentile and trend between 2018 – 2021:
- Tyee Park Elementary: 1.4 Down
- Park Lodge Elementary: 2.4 Down
- 4 Heros Elementary: 5.1 Down
- Lakeview Elementary: 8.3 Down
- Tillicum Elementary: 10.3 Unchanged
- Lochburn Middle: 4.3 Unchanged
- Clover Park High: 5.9 Down
#2 Mid-term COVID academic recovery. There are several schools that once had academic achievement rankings that were above that of the District (today ranked 29.3 percentile). These schools took a serious hit academically during COVID. Recovery of these schools will probably take up to 3 years (so stated by Board President Pearson during the 23 June 2022 Board Workshop) to get back to their previous rankings. They’ve done it in the past and they must be supported to do it in the future.
Here are schools requiring mid–term COVID academic recovery, their ranking percentile, and ranking drop between 2018 – 2021:
- Lake Louise Elementary: 16.4 Down from 43.3
- Evergreen Elementary: 22.4 Down from 44.8
- Hillside Elementary: 22.4 Down from 32.4
- Idlewild Elementary: 35.6 Down from 45.9
- Hudtloff Middle: 12.5 Down from 37.8
#3 Long term academic advancement. “A rising tide raises all boats”. Despite the academic “bleeding” and COVID impact academically, several schools remained above the District’s ranking, bucked the trend academically and improved significantly. These schools are the “tide” that can be the basis for raising all schools’ academic standing. These schools should be in the spotlight as examples of how to get it done despite adversity. The objective must be to incorporate those successful methodologies throughout the District and thus raise academic achievement for all its schools and students.
CPSD has been on a downward slope academically for the last 10 years and it isn’t going to improve overnight unless there is a concerted effort to turn the trend around in the immediate, mid-term and long term view. That requires a budget that is tailored to address each of these strategic goals with a level of specificity that permits the Board to assess the budget’s applicability and viability with respect to Board policy and goals and allow the public to comment upon the budget intelligently. After all, the public is paying for it and deserves to know exactly what it’s getting for its money.
To do anything less is a dereliction of responsibility and accountability we expect from our Board.