Publishing a budget so that people can read it does not make the budget transparent.
For example, I doubt that anyone, other than someone in District finance, can answer the following budget related questions:
- Under what budget line item are the salaries for the 2 HS GT Teachers that were targeted for elimination under the January recommendations?
- What is the line item “Offset Budget Adjustment” under “Materials and Supplies” for Elementary, Middle and High Schools that mysteriously appeared in the budget this year?
- Why was there a $6.7M Contingency budget for Elementary School Materials and Supplies in 2015-2016 when the entire Materials and Supplies budget was only $13M? Why was the Contingency line item raised to $13M in 2016-2017 when only $4M in total was spent on Materials and Supplies in 2015-2016?
- Why couldn’t I get the 2015-2016 budget Actuals when I CORAed for that information in February 2017, 7 months after the close of the fiscal year?
- Why did several 2016-2017 Adopted budget lines change from the 2016-2017 budget to the 2017-2018 budget?
I can’t answer questions 2, 3, 4 and 5, but the answer to question number 1 is that it is part of the Elementary School Contingency funds. Transparency would have that line item easily identifiable under the District’s GT budget. If you think that is transparent, then you must be blind. Note: I only know this because I had to file a CORA request to get that information.
There are just too many inconsistencies and unknowns to call the District’s budget “transparent”.
Let me talk about some of these issues and their lack of transparency to support Matt Van Gieson’s point and to contradict Brad Rupert’s blindly believing everything the District staff tells him.
- “Offset Budget Adjustment” – This line item mysteriously appears on pages 85, 86 and 89 of the 2017-2018 Adopted Budget Web under Materials and Supplies for Elementary, Middle and Senior Level Detail. $4.4M, not an inconsequential amount. What is that? Is it being used to hide the enormity of the Contingency line item I will discuss below?
- Materials and Supplies Contingency. This seems like a slush fund to me. $10M budgeted in 2015-2016, with none used as reported in the 2017-2018 Budget. After years of budgeting it is ridiculous that 41% of the schools’ 2017-18 Materials & Supplies budget is Contingency. 10% to 20% would be conservative with years of budgeting data. This appears to be a non-transparent slush fund if you ask me.
- In late February 2017 I sent a CORA request to the District requesting 2015-2016 Budget actuals for the fiscal year that ended in June 2016. Amazingly, Budget actuals were not available, 7 months later. Is that budget transparency? I think not. I don’t even know how you can form the 2016-2017 budget without having a good idea of the previous year’s actuals & projections, but to be well into the 2017-2018 budget planning cycle and not have actuals from 2015-2016 is just unfathomable to me.
- There were several 2016-2017 budget line items that changed from the 2016-2017 Adopted Budget to the 2017-2018 Adopted Budget. These changes weren’t just isolated to the Contingency line item as the Total line changed by an amount different than the Contingency change. Note the changes in the Contingency Budget and Total Budget items.
What happened here? Again, where is the transparency with this process? Since the 2016-2017 Budget was approved, I even question the legality of these changes and where they carried over to. But, whatever happened, it certainly wasn’t transparent.
And these were just the things I found in a high-level overview of the Approved Budgets. I think it would be safe to say that if I could find these things that there are probably more. And, there are probably people that Matt has talked to that have identified others.
In addition, I’ve previously written about the non-transparent budget maneuverings related to the Alternative Pathways Budgeting For Outcomes (BFO) allocation. (http://improvejeffcoschools.org/index.php/2017/06/14/transparency-in-jeffco-only-if-repeating-the-word-counts/)
Why is all of this important?
This is important for several reasons.
First, people, including Brad Rupert, are saying that the District’s budget is transparent. The fact is, as I have proven above, this is not true. Yes, there is a published document, but looking closely at that document shows that there are some things that require further investigation as Matt insinuated. The key point is that there is not a process in place that would allow people to ask questions similar to what I’m asking. That means non-transparency in my book.
Second, the large Contingency “slush” fund is most certainly not transparent. It shouldn’t be that large ($10M plus $4.4M in Offset Budget Adjustment). If this slush fund was looked at in January what could have been saved from the Board’s cuts? Certainly, the $660k savings from the closing of Pleasantview could have been easily absorbed by just the Elementary Contingency funds. Did the Board even really care?
What is most frustrating for me personally is that my daughter made a public comment on these exorbitant Contingency funds at the February 9th Board meeting and I wrote a detailed letter to the Board regarding them. Yet Brad Rupert and his fellow Board members did not even discuss using more than just a minuscule amount of these non-transparent, and exorbitant, Contingency slush funds to pay for their desired compensation increases, resulting in budget cuts.
Don’t tell me the Budget is transparent when questions like I have above can’t be answered. Don’t tell me the Budget is transparent when it is more convenient to ignore constituents than take a minute to even investigate what $17M (in the 2016-2017 budget) in Contingency funds are actually being used for.
Matt is right and Brad is wrong with regard to Jeffco Budget transparency!