Bennington School District administrators presented a great eye-opener for budget cut considerations on 5/30/2013. The reductions included: $161,354-Enhancement of ACORNS program, 9 students $52,165-SPED overtime $66,541, Just in case SPED Paras $66,556-SPED Facilitator, no student caseload.
This is a surprise because it was reported that the initial BSD's 19 percent budget increase was due to a $1.45 million special education assessment from the Southern Vermont Supervisory Union and that "all special education costs are in the supervisory union budget and assessed to member districts." (BSD approves budget with 19 percent hike, Bennington Banner, Jan. 19, 2013). Does this mean not all SPED costs are from the SVSU assessment? Are some are added by the BSD, and above the requirements of law? The fiduciary responsibilities of the board's financial services appear to be lacking.
Why did it take so long to shift purchases for a truck and mulching service to this year's budget? What happened to checking estimation of fuel/heating costs or reducing the negotiated contracts discussed at the last meetings? Why do the cost estimates appear padded? No one has discussed using the contingency fund balance.
Be proactive. Stop saying that the budget is too complicated to explain. It insults those who do understand and implies that the person explaining the budget doesn't understand it enough.
We need more transparency and budgets written in plain English.
Here are some more considerations for cost reduction:
1. Shuffle grades among schools. This suggestion was previously offered by Principal MacKenzie-King. (see: BSD considers shuffling grades among schools, Bennington Banner, Oct. 5, 2012). Regroup students in the BSD to fit this reorganization model: K-2 in one school, 3-5 in the other schools. It would streamline and pool the required resources for each grade level with less duplication in each school, condense the classes and save the district money.
2. Increase grade 3-5 class sizes. Lower numbers and more money has not increase achievement in this district. Currently the best research practices state that "Feedback," increases student achievement. Just like coaching a blind person who is aiming at a target, constant feedback will assist them in hitting the goal.
3. Streamline the SPED program. Create a testing team for multiple school locations instead. They perform well, have more test reliability and IEPs can be written without bias. Using SPED teachers for testing, scheduling and writing IEPs while giving students subs or having para-educators teach is not the best educational choice for students.
4. Stop emphasizing that students are poor. Emphasize that education helps to overcome poverty and that theses students can make a different in their own lives and the lives of others. Support programs that generate a "can-do" attitude. Eliminate the Band-Aid programs.
Tell the BSD board that we want a basic budget with more transparency. Vote "No" on June 11.