The National Review published a must-read article about how superintendents deceive taxpayers into higher school budgets.
The article starts off by highlighting the uproar over the proposed budget cuts impacting foreign languages and physical education in Greenwich public schools, arguing this is a common tactic used by superintendents to prevent the hard, but necessary work of making meaningful financial and structural reforms.
"This strategic maneuver of targeting cherished programs serves as a diversion from more significant financial issues within the budget and the district’s collective-bargaining agreement with the teachers’ union,” says Frank Ricci, who penned the article.
Ricci goes on to explain how he used similar bargaining tactics when he was a firefighter’s union president.
He says not to fall for the emotional pleas, but to instead dig deeper, ask tough questions, and drill down on the detailed data to better understand the budget. The goal, of course, should always be to improve student educational outcomes and eliminate administrative inefficiencies.
The article calls out Greenwich Superintendent Toni Jones for proposing cuts to “seemingly indispensable programs” just to trigger emotional outrage among parents.
So instead of focusing the budget debate on actual financial and structural reforms, the focus becomes an entirely emotional appeal — how could you cut physical education? How could you cut foreign language? Which is followed by a parade of teary-eyed parents tugging at heartstrings in BOE meetings, thinking they are taking the right steps to save these popular programs.
But don’t fall for this tactic.
It’s not the best way to save these programs.
And it diverts your attention from real, potentially serious issues within the budget.
This manufactured drama is meant to "shield against public scrutiny of proposed budget increases and broader budgeting issues and a way to distract from a focus on potential areas where cost reductions could be more judiciously applied,” Ricci warns. He urges people to assess recent staffing expansions, for instance, to see if they resulted in academic improvements. If not, then that's a good place to start looking for cuts.
He also says that superintendents should have to detail the relationship between test scores, enrollment and the hiring additional staff to justify current staffing levels. If more staff doesn’t lead to better educational outcomes, then there’s another place to look for cuts.
Ricci also encourages board members to evaluate spending and procurement practices. He says that a number of superintendents still operate under the “spend it or lose it” mantra, so they can end up protecting funding by spending in haste at the end of the budget cycle instead of making sure that any money spent improves outcomes.Tomorrow night, Tuesday, January 23rd, is the Board of Estimate and Taxation Budget Meeting. It’s at 6pm in the Town Hall Meeting room, and you can also watch on Greenwich Community Television.
Let’s hope that the Greenwich Board of Education members live up to their responsibility to thoroughly evaluate the budget.
And let’s also hope that the emotional pleas focused on superficial cuts are ignored, and that the focus instead is on making meaningful budget changes that directly improve students' outcomes while eliminating administrative inefficiencies.