From his comments at the SJK Candidates’ Forum in Wheat Ridge last week, Brad Rupert wants us as taxpayers to believe that because of the size of the District, the District’s budget gets very complicated, very quickly. He was implying that either we wouldn’t understand the budget or the District doesn’t want to take the time to explain it to us.
With that comment, Brad also demonstrated his complete lack of understanding of budgets.
The fact of the matter is that school districts, no matter the size, have similar expenditures and line items. It is only the numbers in those line items that get bigger. Read the budget Brad. There is very little broken down by school and even in that case smaller districts would just have fewer schools. There’s nothing complicated about that. That’s just an excuse.
Brad also wants us to believe that the Financial Oversight Committee has responsibility for ensuring budget transparency. Really? Is this the same Financial Oversight Committee that approved a staff recommendation to use reserves to fund up to 1% of compensation increases this year if state funding was not what was anticipated? No organization funds on-going expenses with reserves unless it is a dire emergency. And Brad expects us to trust the Financial Oversight Committee? Sorry, I can no longer trust them.
But let’s talk about what real fiscal transparency looks like.
Before moving to Jefferson County we lived in New York state. Our school district was struggling financially, unlike the self-induced and mismanaged “fiscal crisis” our Board wanted everyone to believe we had this year.
In an effort to collaboratively look at the issue my NY District held 2 budget discussion/working sessions open to all members of the community. One session was held in the evening, the other on a Saturday to allow maximum attendance. Several members of the Board, the Superintendent, members of District finance and at least one member of all district departments attended each session. The District handed out line item copies of the District budget and then presented a high-level overview of the budget, why the district was struggling and financial alternatives.
Approximately 50 members of the community attended the same session I did, and this was from a district much smaller than Jeffco.
After that, community members could ask any question they wanted. It is my recollection that questions as mundane as reducing the frequency of landscaping during the summer were asked and answered.
The Board and District staff stayed until EVERY question was asked and answered.
That’s what real fiscal transparency is, Brad!
That’s what true collaboration with the community looks like.
It was a far cry from the “people can access the budget online” fiscal transparency that Brad Rupert wants us to believe is transparency. It was a Board that truly wanted to collaborate with the community instead of merely doing their “job” of boringly listening to 3 minute-constrained community members during public comment and then completely ignoring them.
Susan Harmon is just as bad. Her comment that she “think(s) that transparency is there” completely misses the point. It is even more disconcerting when she says that she “relies on the District’s presentations at the Board table”. Hey Susan, I want independent thinkers on the Board. I want someone that is at least mildly interested in the details. The District staff has repeatedly shown that they make poorly thought out recommendations and can’t be trusted (http://improvejeffcoschools.org/index.php/2017/02/14/jeffco-board-of-education-should-be-embarrased/ , http://improvejeffcoschools.org/index.php/2017/05/31/another-poorly-thought-out-recommendation-by-the-school-districts-staff/) . Board members need to do what they were elected to do and provide some true oversight.
And, you can add Ron Mitchell to the group of Board members who have no clue about fiscal transparency as he joined the crowd when he merely toted the thickness of the budget book he has.
Guess what incumbent Board members? Fiscal transparency is in the details, not in the “thickness” of the document.
You and the District staff aren’t providing real fiscal transparency, so stop claiming that you do!