Given that District 209 was on the wrong side of a $14 million mountain in discussing its budget last month, it seemed incredibly premature for board members to begin applauding the notion of a balanced budget. Still, they had a month to meet with administrators before the Sept. 24 vote on the final spending plan and regular readers of this newspaper should know that finding the fat would not be a difficult task.
Unfortunately, the school board’s vote on Monday to approve the budget with an estimated $11 million in deficit spending only proved the skeptics right, again. We acknowledge that administrators plan to introduce a series of cost saving measures over the course of the fiscal year, and if those recommendations are approved, the deficit could be trimmed to $4.4 million. Frankly, the likelihood of this becoming reality seems dim.
Assuming for a moment that another $6.5 million can be saved over the next year, this school board, under the guidance of President Chris Welch, has a penchant for approving no-bid contracts and handing out enormous sums of cash on a moment’s notice. Legal fees alone between the end of July and mid August totaled more than $33,600. Every month $18,000 goes out the door for public relations and lobbying contracts. We have every confidence in this school board’s ability to outspend whatever savings might be realized in the coming months.
Even if the board goes along with future recommendations to cut costs, a cursory glance of the budget suggests this effort will be ham handed at best.
Several teachers at the board’s most recent meeting griped about being given a paper allowance and having to pony up the cash to stock the teachers’ lounge with such lavish items as coffee. A student struggling to learn in a classroom crammed with more than 30 unruly teenagers brought her concerns to the board. Another woman asked for the logic behind contracts that appear to pad some classrooms with unnecessary staff while others are left wanting.
All the while, roughly 25 percent of the district’s total spending will come in the form of outside contracts and purchased services. No doubt, some of these services may be vital and too costly to provide in-house. But without a detailed accounting, which several residents clamored for, it’s tough to say what checks might be written against the school board’s own multi-million dollar expense account.
With all the lip service paid by the District 209 school board to providing “nothing but the best,” as the motto goes, it’s disappointing to see that the search for a new superintendent was done in haste.
Roughly a month after Stan Fields resigned the post a paltry search process was halted so that patsy Robert Libka could again be installed as the board’s puppet. Advertisements for the position will appear in a national education magazine for 30 days, beginning Sept. 26. These stand as another indication of this board’s hollow intentions.