Taking a deeper look at the additions and cuts from this year’s budget leads us to the problems with the budget development process itself. The first time the Board of Education sees the budget is just shortly before it is presented to the public. The Board is not involved in the development of the budget, we do not get an opportunity to sit down with the administration and tell them what we would like to see added or eliminated, we do not get to tell them what our priority areas are or how we would like to see programming and staffing decisions align to our Board of Education goals. While the administration undoubtedly talked amongst themselves about what they would like the budget to look like, we did not hear how any input from teachers or staff on funding issues were considered in drafting the budget. And at no point was the community allowed to share their concerns – not until after the budget was already constructed did we have community forums.
Once the Board did get an opportunity to review the budget with the administration at Finance Committee meetings, we had an extremely difficult time even understanding the document. The reality is that it was riddled with errors and inconsistencies. Yes, some of this was due to the fact that additional information was added regarding grant funding and some funds were shifted to new line items. However, much of the clarity found within the final proposed budget came about because of the persistence of the Republican Board members in asking for these clarifications, a reminder that perhaps if the Board had been included in the development of the budget from the beginning, we could have avoided the significant time that this cost us during Finance Committee meetings. Even after we got past many (although not all) of our questions regarding changes to the format of the budget, we were still unable to have substantive discussions on any real changes to the budget at the committee level, due to the Board President’s insistence that the Finance Committee had no authority to actually suggest changes to the budget. The result of a difficult and somewhat fractured committee process was what the public saw Tuesday night during our meeting. There were multiple attempts to compromise and find creative ways to add positions, namely the paraprofessionals and the residency officer, back into the budget without causing an increase in funding over what the superintendent had already suggested. Amendments were offered by Michaela and Paul Panos to do this, but when it came down to it, those attempts failed along party lines.
The development of the budget should be a collaborative process. The Board should hear the concerns of teachers, staff and community members while they work alongside the administration in drafting the budget. Board members should work together, at the committee level, to create a budget that best reflects what is necessary to provide services to our district in a financially responsible way. During committee meetings we should be encouraged to work through changes to the Superintendent’s suggestions, not told that our only choice is to accept or reject the Superintendent’s budget in its entirety. And perhaps most importantly, we should actually take the time to review the effectiveness of existing programming before we entertain the idea of adding funding for new programming to the budget. The Board of Education does not exist in a vacuum of funding – we are a part of the Town of Windsor budget as a whole, and town budgets need to pass referendum. The amount by which we increase our budgets every year has a direct effect on how much the town can increase their budget, and has a real effect on the level of services that the town can offer. The reality is that we have seen a disproportionate growth in spending to student enrollment. We have also seen that student performance has greatly suffered, despite a nearly 60% increase in spending in the Board of Education budget during the same time period that a significant number of students have left our district. One would think that providing a larger pool of resources would lead to higher student achievement, but that has clearly been demonstrated to be a failed approach.
Despite our frustrations, we would like to say what an honor it is to represent the citizens of Windsor as members of the Board of Education. While this budget process has taken an extraordinary amount of time and effort, it is possibly our most important function as a Board, one we can only hope every other Board member takes as seriously as we do.