What would you have done???

A friend recently shared with me a question posed to her by a current member of the Gilbert School Board.  The question was, “I would really be interested to hear what you would have done about the budget?”  A sensible and reasonable question that each of us might consider.  This question however is a bit general.  There are a few more specific questions I would like the governing board and administration answer before I’d be ready to make a decision on the budget.

Here’s some additional questions to consider as well as my answer to the general question about what would I have done about the budget:

Dear GPS Board Member,

I can appreciate that a budget must be approved.  But like the federal government, it seems the Gilbert School Board is focused more on raising taxes and “increasing revenues” to pay for all sorts of non-educational expenses than minding the store and doing what is best for education.

These are questions that Gilbert voters are asking:

  1. Why does GPS have a professional lobbyist on retainer for $50K annually?  Moreover, why would this same lobbyist not be allowed in the office of our very own state representatives?  How can the board continue to support such extravegant expenses when they themselves have failed to invite state representatives from our own district to discuss legislative matters?
  2. Why did GPS spend $100K to an outside consultant for a strategic plan that doesn’t seem to address education at all but rather how to invade the private sector with additional revenue generation tactics that compete in the private sector, target state representatives for legislating more monies from the state general fund, and focus on more money for education when education is anything but the real focus?  If current district staff, of which several members are paid well over $100K/year don’t have strategic direction as part of their job description, the school board is negligent.  If they do, they are incompetent and need to be replaced.
  3. Why did Board members via split decision, support a multi-million dollar decision to keep All-Day Kindergarten which remains unfunded from the state at the expense of general education for the other grades?  Who were the dissenting board members and for what reasons did they not support the decision?
  4. Why does GPS continue to have over 2,500 certified employees on the payroll when according to reports from GPS, 1,500 teachers per classroom would be sufficient?  That’s 1,000 employees that are not needed, or seriously underworked.  If the average classroom has 27 students, w/ 38K students, that’s 1407 classrooms.  Why does it take 2,500 teachers to teach 1400 classrooms?  1,000 teachers with average salaries of $45K/year is a potential $45Million more in salary than is necessary.  That’s not including the Cadillac benefits plan and pension retirement that is provided which amounts to another $20Million easy.
  5. Why does the board approve a 30% increase in property taxes when there has been ZERO growth in the Gilbert school system and the district continues to talk about declining enrollment year over year?
  6. What happened to the $58Million in Technology money awarded in 2007 in a special override?  This issue has been rife with scandal after scandal tracing all the way up to the school board.  After exhausting all the funds, all there is to show for it is a smattering of new equipment such as smart boards which are not in every classroom, lack of trained staff, lack of IT infrastructure…  now a recent statement from the district that parents are welcome to “bring their own technology” and we’ll try to “make due”.  I would think we should expect more of the board as stewards.
  7. Why did GPS spend over $1.7 Million dollars on software from Cross-point years ago, by paying them in full before any kind of delivery, and is now trying to get money back that should never have been paid in the first place for non-compliance with RFP.  In addition to which, the board approved legal funding not to exceed $50K for the lawsuit, and upon recent reports, the district has spent well over $78K.  These same district officials that caused this mess continue to earn excessive salaries well over 6-figures with no consequences for their actions. One begins to wonder if it’s malfeasance or just incompetence, but in either case, the board is negligent.
  8. Why does the school board propose a $17 Million dollar override to the public on the back of a 30% increase to property taxes.  This, along with all the other items already listed… how can you ask about what should be done with the budget. 

Until the school board rises to the level of financial competence and demands fiscal responsibility on the part of the district, is willing to make changes to district staff that continually show an aversion to savings and proper financial prudence, we the people will remain vigilant in finding board members who will seek to bring about such ends.

 What needs to be done? 

  • Demand an accounting on the results of the Community Budget Committee as to what the priorities of spending are.  Fund those areas first with the monies available and left everything else unfunded.  The first attempt at this was a dismal failure.  While asking for spending priorities, all that was returned were alternative sources of revenue generation.
    • But Wait… the community budget committee never focused on priorities of spending.  For weeks they were lead in a different direction, a direction the administration carefully and cleverly avoided and instead sought to solicit opinion on how to generate more revenue… as if this were the only answer to the financial issues… and this appears to be the only direction acceptable to the majority of current board members.
  • Refuse to raise taxes in an economy that has yet to make a recovery.  Or ever.  As taxes go, since they are levied on real estate and pinned to the values of real estate, as values go up, “revenues” go up.  As the community grows, more property is taxed and revenues continue to increase.
  • Refuse to raise taxes and increase spending in a district that has had zero growth and is beginning to decline in enrollment.
  • Reduce All-Day Kindergarten to Half-Day and compete for all those in our own district as well as other border districts whose parents are leaving GPS in favor of charter schools that offer half-day.  Half-Day Kindergarten is desired among far more than GPS is willing to admit or attempt to service.  They’d rather pass an override costing tax-payers $17 Million and keep the “Education Empire” going than have to right-size the staff to meet the requirements of what is funded and what is not.  Nikki Blanchard used as her argument in open meeting that going back to half-day Kindergarten would result in the dismissal of 96 instructors and untold number of bureaucrats…  Her argument would seem to suggest that GPS has an obligation to employ as much as to educate.  As former GPS head of Human Resources, kudos to her for admitting the truth.  Indeed, public education is BIG-Government and must be “protected”.
  • Demand that the district and its offices take a reduction in costs.  Teacher salaries are to remain intact while principals, administrators, and classified staff are open for re-organization.  Start with district offices first.  Justify each and every position in terms of how it affects the quality of education to the student.  Information Technology is also to remain unaffected, so we can finally have a decent online program for advanced learning.
    • Let’s also be very clear here.  Certified employees must also be right-sized.  Simple math dictates the following:  1. There are roughly 38,500 students at GPS.  2. There are an average of 27 students per classroom district-wide.  3. Divide 38,500 students by 27 in each classrooms and you need 1,425 teachers for each classroom.  These are rough figures… but there are reportedly over 2,500 certified staff on the books at GPS.  A VERY important question must be asked.  Who are these extra staff and why are there so many?  Are all of these staff full-time?  Part-time?  How many are department heads that spend less than half a day in the classroom but receive full salary and benefits?
  • Demand a justification for each district staff position.  District staff purportedy exist to serve the needs of the individual campuses.  While that might be true to some extent, I know for a fact that the district does more directing, commanding, and telling than it does serving, servicing, and providing for.  Do we really need so much duplication of effort?  What the heck is the job of the principal if not to run the school for which he or she is “serving”?  Let’s empower the principals more and reduce the overhead at the district level.
  • Cut the Public Relations department from the budget completely.  Public relations???  Marketing???  What the heck?  If district schools would focus on quality of education FIRST rather than building their own bureaucratic empires… teachers could be paid more, educational programs fully funded, and quality of education enhanced.  Instead, the PR “office of spin” would have you believe that: GPS is the best district in the state (country); AND that by some miracle they managed to do it on thin air because everything is so under-funded…
  • Send the administration back to the drawing board on the budget proposal refusing to increase the burden on the citizens of Gilbert informing them that no new taxes will ever be approved so long as district growth remains stagnant.  Failure to do so will result in their immediate dismissal for failure to perform.
  • Eliminate the “Spirit of Oppression” that exists among our staff at all levels but the top.  From certified to classified staff of all titles and positions… there are those in the trenches, those that provide the essential education and support services so vital to a successful educational environment that live in fear and loathing of the district administration.  There are district staff who have approached me on an individual basis and provided insights to the general oppression and in some cases, the sharp abuses and retaliation that a few tyranically-minded officials meet out.  This single issue alone requires an article or series of articles that probe deeper.

It’s election year.  Unlike any other time, there are actually 4 of 5 seats on the board open for election of officers.  Pay attention to the candidates and what they say.  Don’t be fooled by empty promises.  If there is anything most needed in the district, it’s board members who will seek to hold the district administration accountable for their responsibilities.  Elect board members who understand that their fiduciary responsibility is to their constituency and not to “make the district administration look good”.   GPS can indeed look good… and it should… for genuine reasons, not simply because overpaid Public Relations officers continue to ignore the man behind the curtain and turn the volume up on the great and power Oz.

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