"But if it is believed that these elementary schools will be better managed by...any other general authority of the government, than by the parents within each ward [district], it is a belief against all experience." --Thomas Jefferson

Monday, May 14, 2012

Money and Management

The Board Meeting this Tuesday, May 15, will have far-reaching implications.  See the agenda here.

Budget and Tax Rates
First, we will be reviewing the proposed Maintenance and Operations (M&O) budget (everything except buildings, buses, long-term stuff).  This is really the only time the budget will be discussed in depth and allow you the opportunity to weigh in on it PRIOR to its adoption on June 19.  During the June meeting, we will have a formal, public budget hearing.  However, if you have suggestions or comments, they will have greater impact prior to the hearing, not during.  I have been told that in the past 10 years, no one has commented on the budget. 

*Note: Boring, but important, stuff to follow.

During the campaign, I had a few people make comments on property tax hearings.  Truth in Taxation is a legal hearing the district must engage in to raise our property tax rate.  Taxes vary based on what your property is worth in any given year.  Every year, the County determines what the tax rate for the district will be, based on how much our collective properties are worth.  If the district accepts that tax rate or lowers it, there is no Truth in Taxation hearing.  If, however, the district decides to raise that tax rate, the law requires a Truth in Taxation hearing.  The main complaint I received was that, during the hearing, the public was given the impression that the tax rate increase had already been decided and the hearing was just a formality. 

When I attended a District Finances 101 course at a conference, the presenter explained why the complaint I heard is mostly accurate, and it has to do with state laws.  By law, our budget for July 2012 - June 2013 must be approved by June 22.  As we approve that budget, we also accept the tax rate from the county.  That allows us to project how much money we will receive, from property taxes, during the coming year.  If we decide we need to increase the amount coming in, we will include the increase in the proposed budget.  When the budget is approved in June, the increased tax rate is, also, approved.  So, even though we are required by law to hold a Truth in Taxation hearing in August or September, by then, we are 2 months into the fiscal year, and the spending has been going on, as per the June budget.  In reality, the only opportunity to influence the budget, and any proposed tax rates, is BEFORE the approval in June.  I think the system is messed up, but that's the law.  I would like to see us hold a budget Open House (like Highland City does) in May.  However, since no one has yet commented on the budget, there really doesn't seem to be a reason to take the time. 

Superintendent Evaluation
This Tuesday, in a closed session, we will be evaluating our Superintendent, Dr. Vern Henshaw.  Superintendents and Business Administrators are given two-year contracts.  So, every two years, it is the board's responsibility to evaluate their performance and decide whether to renew those contracts and under what conditions.  In Alpine, we review our Business Administrator's appointment six months before the Superintendent's.  This allows us to have more continutity in case one of them were leaving. 

We have asked Richard Stowell, Executive Director of the Utah School Boards Association (USBA), to assist us with this process.  A few months ago, we reviewed some of the things we would like to see in the evaluation.  My main focus was on concrete, measurable objectives.  We each met with Mr. Stowell to relate both what the superintendent does well and where we would like to see improvement.  That information was put together in a survey form, and each board member picked so many in each area as the most important items.  The compiled information will be presented to us this evening for our discussion and for our formal evaluation.  Additionally, we have received a report from the Superintendent of his goals and accomplishments over the past two years.  Mr. Stowell will be providing comparables in salary, as well.  We will be able to discuss the evaluation, as well as any proposed contractual changes for both the Supertintendent and the Business Administrator.  The closed session allows for discussion only.  Any action (approval of contract, etc) will be voted on in an open meeting. 

Common Core Update
During the State School Board meeting this month, Superintendent Larry Shumway told the board he would be submitting a letter to the testing consortium (Smarter Balanced or SBAC) to switch Utah's status from a governing member to an advisory member.  The reason was our State Board decided to issue an RFP (request for propsal) for different entities to bid on creating our own state tests, instead of adopting those funded by the Federal Government.  Our agreement with SBAC REQUIRES us to implement their tests in the 2014-15 school year.  This means it would be hard to have any company want to bid on creating tests, if we are legally obligated to adopt someone else's tests.  It was assumed a change to advisory status would allow us to stay in the consortium and still issue the RFP.  However, a change to advisory status does not change the testing requirement.  It only forfeits our single vote in the consortium.  Many state board members were opposed to this action.  Some I've spoken with think there will be a complete withdrawl from the consortium.   I am keeping my fingers crossed.