During the Pueblo District 60 strike, I had the opportunity to interview one of our financial officers officers district, who will remain anonymous for obvious reasons. I cannot even say what specific position this employee holds because our department of finance is so small, that divulging the specific position or even the specific area would inform the other employees almost immediately (by process of elimination) who had shared this information with me. Several media outlets reported last night that teacher salaries decreased this year while human resource salaries and administration salaries increased, not only this year--but over the last three years (Howland, 2018). The numbers reported by media, however, were not completely true, and they do not reflect the seriousness of the budget crisis in District 60 . . . because District 60 is not being run properly to improve financially. If the district does not improve its revenue sources and its ability to retain students, it will fail financially within the foreseeable future and be taken over by the state of Colorado for mismanagement.
According to my source, the head financial office for the district has overseen investments from the reserves for the district for some time, and these investments have failed miserably during the last two years. In spite of recognizing changes in the market, no changes were made to the investment plan, and the district’s portfolio has crashed, which is why the district is now in a financial crisis. To add to the growing crisis, the district chose to increase spending by hiring more administrators during the crisis, increasing their administrative budget between 17% and 27% depending on who does the math. My anonymous source states “the increase in administrative spending this year is actually 27%” (McCay, 2018).
In spite of the growing financial crisis, our financial team are not seeking better investment plans or diversified revenue streams like bond elections and levies. To make matters worse, the team do not follow a written budget policy, which might guide decision-making during a crisis. Instead, they began their planning this year with the previous year’s budget, and then they amended as needed for immediate fiscal needs (Pueblo City Schools, 2018). Their reactionary budgeting required that they cut from line-items, which they saw as expendable and added to items, which they thought would benefit the district . . . and they made these decisions without the input of stakeholders, ensuring their decisions would meet opposition (Schilling & Tomal, 2013, pp. 38-41). Pueblo is currently in a reactive budgeting cycle, and as we move forward, our district leaders MUST begin planning for the future, not the immediate crisis.
Right now, the budget team for district consists of eight people: the board members, the superintendent of schools, and the district treasurers. The decisions of these eight people have cost the district 1000 students in three years--1000 students have literally left the district in only three years because of their dissatisfaction with Pueblo District 60 (Koen, 2018). OBVIOUSLY, the current form of budgeting is not working for us, and we must change. We have put fires out in our living room while the entire house is burning down around us. My inside source has recommended change several times--change to our investment portfolio, change to our budgeting system, change to our hiring practices. All of these recommendations are ignored. If our highest administrators cannot listen to wise suggestions about necessary change, we will lose another 1000 students THIS YEAR. The students are participating in the strike with their teachers, and they will not return to schools where change is denied again.
To improve not only our budgeting process, but also our culture as a district, we need to seek input from responsible third parties, listen to their advice, and plan an ideology for our long-term budget, which will help us meet some necessary change goals. If we will not change, we will die. We need to diversity our funds. We need to change our leaders--immediately. And we need to close buildings to save money, not cut salaries. If we won’t make wise decisions for the future of Pueblo, then the future of Pueblo will LITERALLY go to District 70 for an education.
In the wake of our strike and our current budget crisis, I developed a Knovio presentation suggesting why we need reforms in our budgeting process:
Pueblo District 60 has no published budget policy. A review of their public budgets suggests that they follow a systems approach to budgeting, and that as they begin their planning year, they begin with the previous year’s budget, which they amend as needed for immediate fiscal needs (Pueblo City Schools, 2018). Unfortunately, one of the drawbacks to this model of budgeting is possible reactionary budgeting, where each crisis is dealt with on an annual basis, and long-term cultural shifts in program-planning and funding don’t necessarily take place (Schilling & Tomal, 2013, pp. 38-41). Pueblo is currently in reactive budgeting cycle, and as we move forward, our district leaders MUST begin planning for the future, not the immediate crisis.
Right now, the district board members, along with the superintendent of schools, develop the budget with advice from the district treasurers. Eight people move through a fiscal planning cycle on the behalf of the district. The budget is presented after its adoption each year at the final board meeting. Stakeholders may present concerns and complaints at the next public board meeting, but stakeholders’ concerns do not factor into the budgeting process. The district is required to present the budget for financial transparency; they are not required to change it because of community concerns. Their financial transparency is barely met by posting the budget under a link so far down their front page that most viewers would never find it; if our leaders truly wanted transparency and feedback, they would “create an online environment where budgets and emerging school plans can be easily accessed and readily shared” (Perry, 2013, p. 9). For the last three years, our district has experienced student loss to nearby districts and budget cuts to most budget items as a result of those losses; yet, we have not moved aggressively toward solutions. We have put fires out in our living room while the entire house is burning down around us.
To improve not only our budgeting process, but also our culture as a district, we need to seek input from responsible third parties, listen to their advice, and plan an ideology for our long-term budget, which will help us meet some necessary change goals. If we will not change, we will die. Our current climate of frustration, exhaustion, and disillusionment will only increase our student losses this year, and we have taken NO progressive steps toward fiscal change. Every levy proposed in the 2017 election in Colorado passed. EVERY SINGLE ONE. Our district did not propose a bond or a levy in 2017, and we have not begun to campaign for either one, which we desperately need to do, for the 2018 election. Especially after a significant tax CUT on the federal level, most Pueblo residents would invest in their own future as a community if the campaign were solid and the purpose for the taxes were valid; but we aren’t even asking for tax payers to take responsibility in the midst of our financial crisis. We’re continuing to plan exactly how we’ve been planning, which means we’re making a conscious decision right now to get the same results--and our FUTURE will move to the district next door if we cannot do better.