Margaret Raymond Driscoll is a nine-year Melrose School Committee member who is passionate about excellent teaching and learning for all public school students, and considers it a privilege to collaborate with others who share that passion. You can also follow her on Twitter at @MargaretDrisc. Just to be clear - opinions expressed here do not represent those of the Melrose Public Schools, the Melrose School Committee, or the Massachusetts Association of School Business Officials - they are hers alone.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Budget 101: Presentation and Notes

On Tuesday, 3/3, the 6:00 portion of the School Committee meeting consisted of a Budget 101 presentation designed to support community understanding, reflection, and advocacy around the FY16 school budget process. (You can see the slides here: http://1i8brn1xoauz1pwsvo1ktb7vb1q.wpengine.netdna-cdn.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/Budget-1011.pdf or watch it on MMTV at http://www.mmtv3.org/index.php?categoryid=28 in the Part 1 section.)

Here are a few notes that may lend context to the presentation:

The school budget is the main way the community ties educational goals to school funding. For example, one of our goals is to “Maximize the value of the teacher contract…” so you will see increases in teacher salaries compared with the FY15 budget. You will also see investments in professional development and administrative salaries in order to ensure that teachers get training, support, and useful and appropriate evaluation so they can keep improving what and how they teach. We seek the greatest value for what we spend, in other words, the best return on our investment.

How do you know that the schools are using your tax dollars for what they promised at budget time? Two ways: financially and programmatically. Financially, at every regular meeting, Director of Finance Jay Picone submits “warrants” (which are actually invoices) for school expenses and the Committee must approve every one for them to be paid. Those payments are posted in summary form in the Monthly Budget Summary, and must also be approved by the Committee so we can see how the money is used properly and that we don’t overspend. Second, when we look at programs (like athletics for example), we make sure our choices at budget time (types of sports, levels like freshman/JV/varsity, etc.) align with expenses. You can find all warrants and Monthly Budget Summaries in our packets on the IQM2 page of the School Committee web site. Programmatically, you can look at documents like School Improvement Plans, Programs of Study (MHS and soon for MVMMS), Codes of Conduct, contracts with collective bargaining units, and/or the web site. An example: last year you heard discussion around the potential hiring of a Fine and Performing Arts Director. The Committee approved that position, so you will see Director DiFruscia’s name in our staff directory and as a separate budget line item with her salary, as evidence of that investment.

How might you think about what you want the budget to direct the Supt. to do?
We have to abide by the law, contractual obligations etc., so we have to provide special education services, pay for legally required teacher training, pay staff members what we’ve promised in their contracts, etc. It’s very difficult to quantify those elements into a number by itself. But we can think about what we as a community value at different school levels (elementary, middle, and high), like arts, athletics, health and wellness, library media services, on-line/blended learning opportunities, foreign language. Do we want more training for teachers? Would we increase what we pay substitute teachers to be able to hire more highly qualified subs? Would we accept more students from other cities and towns to provide more revenue to fund the things we value? How do we see technology fitting into this equation? Would we give up something to get something different?

At the end of this process in late April, the Committee must submit a balanced budget for consideration by the Board of Aldermen. So what do you think makes for a high quality education for your child(ren) and how do you think we should allocate the money in this budget to get as close as we can to that?

More questions? Suggestions? Comments? Please send them to fy16schoolbudget@melroseschools.com or contact your principal, Supt. Taymore, or Committee members. Thank you so much!