Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Budget Compromise? or Compromised?

Good news! Mayor Flanagan has dipped into his (our) piggy bank and found some extra money for education! And he has promised even more once the GIC becomes a reality! Thankfully the city will now be able to 100% net fund the school budget and education will continue without mass layoffs!

HIP HIP HOORAY.... HIP HIP HOORAY

If you're detecting a tone of sarcasm here it's not by accident.

I do think that it is a good thing that the Mayor has come back with a proposal that SHOULD* restore educational funding to the bare minimums of what is needed. But I really can't pat him on the back and let his supporters start planning the victory parade.

Why?

Well first off because the reason he came back with this proposal is because the council rejected his budget. His original proposal of net funding to 98% is pure economic stupidity. I can't believe anyone believes that we are going to have the ability to fund education to 100% the following fiscal year PLUS the 2% we would have been short for fiscal 2012. He is already saying the fiscal 2013 budget will be even tougher so why would you budget this way?

Secondly, All the focus has been on the school budget! Meg Mayor Brown has had to figure out where to make all the cuts and all the political pressure has been on the school budget. Damn this pisses me off because really every aspect of the budget should have been looked at for savings. Folks if there is fat in the school budget, then there is fat in the municipal budget too. Long term budget scrutiny would have been a very worthwhile thing.

Flanagan's compromise is basically pulling out reserve cash and a few other things and then promising the extra money if GIC passes. Well what if it doesn't? And even if it does how watertight is that promise? Oh he'll sign something! I want something binding, better yet cash up front. Let him fund it all now and use the GIC money to payback the 1% cuts he would have to make across the board.

I'm still confused by his numbers! If we're getting an extra 4.5 million dollars for education and he claims 1.7 is being eaten by Charter tuition increases BUT really we're getting an additional 1.2 million to offset that.. Where is the rest of that 4.5 million going? I'd like to see this cleared up.

That said the Mayor's compromised budget is almost certainly going to pass. The superintendent is already showing she is on board and the council has no appetite to deny a budget that she is happy with and that would almost certainly result in one with municipal side layoffs.

I had the opportunity to watch the city council meeting from 6/15 and while this is a great opportunity to say "good job City Council" what I found most interesting was the talking points from the business leaders that were invited to attend. Some of what was said are exactly the things that I have said here (And obviously many many others have said too), how education is vital to the future of the city, that OUR children will have to compete against those from communities that HAVE funded education and so on and so forth. But one of the things that REALLY, REALLY struck me were the comments by Bob Karam. What he said was, and I'm recalling from memory here.. we can't continue to run government the way we have. We have to look outside the box on how to save money. He mentioned the idea of privatizing the DPW or at least trash collection. He pointed out that he knew that such actions would have real consequences on real people but the alternative was the endless cycle of budget cuts and layoffs because we can't afford to pay for these services. He said he recognized the city was in a death spiral and Pat Casey took some offense to that and said that this was a great city but HE'S RIGHT! Yes, Fall River is a great city but we're nosediving and unless someone figures out how to right the flaps or pull the damn nose up it's going to get uglier! We have got to find ways to either increase revenue or drastically reduce city spending or BOTH. In the end Flanagan's compromise is another band-aid approach that taps our dwindling resources and doesn't solve the issue, just puts off the problem for another day.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

School Budget and the New Math

It seems the more I try to figure out what the truth is with the school budget the less sense it makes.

The Superintendent presented an 86.3 million dollar budget and the Herald News reported that "Mayor Will Flanagan announced Wednesday night that he will seek to cut the system’s budget by $3.3 million."

So...

86.3
- 3.3
____
83

So we're looking at an 83 million dollar budget! Oh.. hold on. The Mayor wants to cut from the current figure of 84.3 million.

Ok... change the 86.3 to 84.3 and then cross out the ... 81 million..

But hold on 86.3 million is a level service budget.. so we need to spend more just to maintain the same level of services. Level funding would be another year at 84.3 million but that won't pay for the same level of services.. so 81 million is a pretty big drop...

But wait.. the Mayor says the effect of all of this is less than a one million total cut in educational spending! "He says despite the operating budget drop, total education spending in the city would drop by only $912,861 from its current total just under $129.1 million." Well this SOUNDS impressive but it seems the total educational spending includes lots of things that don't factor into the classroom. So we could theoretically paint every class room and increase total spending but obviously do little to improve educational quality.

But in the same article we find out that we're getting 4.5 million increase in Ch. 70 money! Well this should plug the hole!

81
+ 4.5
____
85.5

Maybe THAT is how the Mayor is figuring out the total drop is less than a million.. no that wouldn't make sense...

But hold on the Mayor says most of the 4.5 million is eaten up by a 1.7 million increase in charter school tuition costs and a 1.6 million cut in unrestricted state aid.

1.7
+1.6
____
3.3 (odd how that number comes up..)

4.5
-3.3
___
1.2

So there is still 1.2 out of the 4.5... so does that mean we're really at 82.2 million?

Oh wait...

According to this the amount of money we receive from the state increased by 1.2 million!

So.. 1.7 - 1.2 = $500,000 and $4,500,000 - $500,000 = $4,000,000 but then take away 1.6 million from.. hold on WHY are we taking away money flagged for education to make up for a loss of "unrestricted state aid"? Ugh.. well $81,000,000 + $2,400,000 = $83,400,000.

Of course if you argue that the mayor should use all of that money for education and not plug holes and now $81M + $4M = $85M.

How in the world is the Mayor arriving at 81 million and where is all this other money going?

Now the Mayor says that he is going to fund just 98% of the city's requirement for education and that IS allowed but he will have to pay the difference the following year! If we can't fund 100% this year and we are either spending 4.3 million, 3.3 million, or 900k less this year how are we going to pay 100% next year AND the shortfall for this year?

I can't wait to see the numbers that get thrown out then!

Monday, June 13, 2011