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We may not get another chance like this




[Updated May 7 based on revised budget documents]

Last week, the School District provided the first details on how it plans to spend the additional $314 million it anticipates having next year.

Yes, that number is $314 million.

This 11% projected increase in District spending may be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for our school system to enjoy such a large infusion of money (thanks to the federal stimulus). As U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan put it in a January speech, “I want all of us to work hard enough and smart enough to take full advantage of this, because it’ll never happen again.”

We welcome you to share information about and reactions to the plans for this money. The Notebook will be blogging about the budget in the coming month leading up to the late May budget adoption, to try to ensure that there is as robust a discussion as possible about using this windfall wisely.

In a briefing for the press on April 22, District Chief Budget Officer Mike Masch introduced a "budget in brief" document that provides a lot of detail about the budget and where the additional expenditures are going (see pages numbered 14-16). He provided clarification of where some but not all of the new money goes. The document also details staffing projections, department by department (pp 18-20) and indicates that the District anticipates to add more than 1100 new positions.

Here's what is clear:

  1. $126 million will go to initiatives comprising Phase I of the strategic plan, such as class size reduction, hiring counselors, changing high school schedules, expanding summer school,improving the IEP evaluation process,and more than 40 other measures. Some detail has been supplied on these items.
  2. Some key expenditure assumptions account for another $49 million - mandated or negotiated compensation increases, charter school spending and utilities. These are summarized on page 13.

What about the other $140 million? One big portion of that appears to be going to the broad category of  "administrative support operations," which have no obvious counterpart in Imagine 2014.

At this point we can only infer some things from the expenditure tables provided in the "budget in brief" but will need to get a more detailed explanation from finance officials. We will be asking for more details about the following dozen increases that cannot be fully accounted for by the previously mentioned "Phase I initiatives" and other "expenditure assumptions":

  • Special education spending rises by $24.5 million, or almost 10%.
  • Professional development expenses rise by [delete$11.6 million, or 24%] $10.9 million.
  • Expenditures for educational technology triple - an increase of $14.4 million.
  • Debt service increases by $13.8 million, or 6 percent.
  • Temporary borrowing grows by $22.6 million.
  • Services to non-public schools increase by $7.1 million or 23 percent.
  • The budget for the high school reform office increases $6.1 million, or 53% $850K.
  • The budget for the chief business officer increases  $1.6 $1.7 million or 76 percent.
  • The budget for the Information Technology office grows by $9.2 million, or 65%.
  • The budget for the finance department grows by $9.4 million, or 79 percent.
  • The budget for facilities administration grows by $3.2 million or 42 percent.
  • The budget for "records management/warehouse/distribution" more than doubles, increasing by $2.9 million.

Please tell us know: What stands out to you? What questions do you have?

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Paul Socolar

Paul is the Notebook's former editor and publisher and also one of its founders in 1994.