Dist. 861 needs outside help


by Frances Edstrom

After I read the latest account of the Dist. 861 budget talks, I remembered several years ago throwing my back out trying to move a king size bed over thick carpet.

Dist. 861 is an immovable object. The school board is valiantly but futilely persisting in trying to move it. All they are going to accomplish is to throw their backs out, I'm afraid.

Board members are asking difficult questions, and proposing difficult cuts to the Dist. 861 budget, which is perpetually in chaos, no matter that its resources continually rise, in real and adjusted dollars.

The simple fact of the matter is that the board is asking the wrong people to make the cuts, to make the necessary changes. The Dist. 861 administrators (all of them, not simply the central office employees) think of being asked to make cuts as being asked to bring the rope to their own hangings. To them, this is a survival issue, a personal issue, not one of what is the best thing to do for the district.

Not in my time of Dist. 861-watching has anyone actually stood up to the administration and said, "No, we are not going to run a referendum to cover the fact that you can't manage a budget and won't curtail spending." Consequently, the belief at the district level is literally that there is plenty of money out there, it just takes the right combination of threats and sly moves to shake it out of the people of the district.

Not that many Dist. 861 board members haven't tried to rein in spending and get the public school district on the road to recovery. But unfortunately, board members must rely on district employees for the financial and legal information they need to make real change, and the information is not delivered in a way in which it can be used to their advantage.

It's easier to simply say it can't be done.

In many businesses, employees are rewarded for identifying waste or discovering ways to save money. In Dist. 861, one of the elementary principals told the board that asking individual buildings to do so wouldn't be "equitable." Let's see, to we want to be responsible or equitable. Certainly there must be a compromise.

And, of course there are always board members who have been co-opted by administration and actively work against the efforts of those board members who take their charge seriously.

A friend of mine gave me some teflon-coated things to put under furniture to make it easier to move large pieces.

What this district needs, what public education in this state needs, is a teflon-coated facilitator to come in, perhaps from the state auditor's office, or the financial department of the Department of Education, who would give board members straight answers to their questions concerning running Dist. 861 within budget and responsibly. If it can't be accomplished without the "state takeover" that is threatened, then so be it.

Let's stop taking up the valuable time of committed public servants in an exercise in obfuscation euphemistically called "budget" planning by Dist. 861.


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