Friday, November 5, 2010

Questions on budget monitoring

Open to questions:
projected surplus budget column? yes

what are assumptions? we don't encumber our gas and electricity, but project it (in Reading), for example

one question we should be asking, as a School Committee member? (oooh, good question!)
(there are fors and againsts who does the presentations on numbers--does the superintendent or the finance person answer the questions?)
  • -Are we still okay?
  • -Where do you think we're most vunerable? ("allow your school business manager to confess...where do they have the least amount of certainity about the budget")
Most feared comment
"well, that's not the number you gave us last month!". "We're only as good as the information we have at the time."

changing encumberances over the year

"I haven't done a budget report once that there aren't pluses and minuses"

 regional school budget done in February (has to be to towns by Feb. 14)

 "things change drastically"

 "when does the School Committee become part of the process? Do you go line by line?"

 building the budget the June of the previous year

 October/November budgeting...budget book in December

 (note that this is a very different calendar than Worcester, as Worcester doesn't go to an April town meeting. Makes a big difference in what our budget looks like)

retreat to discuss what School Committee feels are priorities prior to creation of budget

your comfort with the level of detail School Committee members should have, not only on the budget, but on individual accounts...

 Schaefer: committee votes a single line item budget (but they have the detail)

 depends on comfort level of School Committee with pluses and minuses in various accounts (so long as the bottom line is steady)..."there is a happy line in between"

Sanborn: 24 member committee, "if we didn't do things in subcommittee, nothing would get done"
oversight overkill on line items (hmph)
"but the major catagories...that transfer authority is more than authority"

 what is the level of authority of School Committee for transfers? cost centers, vote by cost centers

 "doesn't bog down the School Committee, allows day-to-day operation, but general oversight" (hmph)

process for how you discuss with your School Committee returning funds at the end of the year?
regional school can carry 5% of budget
(both regional schools had to return over $200,000 last year...budgets prepared early)

 One question to ask: "I don't understand this."
joint meeting with town, all in agreement on how we're going to proceed, "have had occasions to say" that funds returned will come back the next year, or energy savings will go to energy conservation

What would your choice be for people on a finance committee?
 "certainly somebody with a financial background!"
 and then trust in them
"in addition to that, educators" who know what we're trying to do and how much things cost
"I don't want that person there to be afraid to ask the question that they don't understand" something

how important is the tracking of the movement of money among accounts and being able to transfer funds?
"if in your reporting, you talk about where it's going and why it's going there, you build up trust"
"people need to understand where the money is going"
"your budget is built on assumptions..making sure people know what the assumptions are, so you can explain the variations"

Trust but verify
SC member says, "It's OUR budget...we're the ones who are responsible to the voters, to the taxpayers, to the children"
"my responsibility to make the superintendent look good and the school committee look good" says one of the business managers
some districts do two costs all salary, one all expenses (ugh! How transparent is that?)

 ask "Do you feel the system we have allows you to do your job for projections, encumberances, cost centers, functions...?"

 Have your budget correspond to what is in the end of the year report

SC member: more people feel ownership about the budget if there are cost centers

 can be used for behavioral much is used per building on subs, on heating? Maybe if you get a little creative, you can save that money and use it for something the building wants or needs

great to have someone looking over our shoulder to catch potential mistakes

Ch.70 makes it more difficult to explain the relative cost per pupil (as foundation bases it on community wealth) in regional districts

level of trust with town administration, believability, "constant give and take"

 long term vision, "slow eroding" of school services..."that's a municipal government issue...what level of services are you willing to pay for? That's a conversation that needs to happen."

 if Ch.70 is only going to keep place with inflation (for coming year it's 1 1/2 %) and teachers' salaries are going at 3%, it's unsustainable

set municipal priorities

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