R2 Board Needs Better Budget Prep

The second public hearing for next year’s Richland 2 general fund budget was to begin at 5 p.m., Tuesday evening, at Westwood High School. Unfortunately, the public hearing was almost over before the Board even mustered a quorum. While there were several in the audience, not much of an effort was made by Board members to encourage them to speak, and so no one did. But what if 30 people had come to speak to the Board about the budget? Most of the Board would not have been there to hear them. That is nothing short of disrespectful of the public they serve.

The bulk of the meeting concerned the three budgets presented: 0 mill, 9 mill and 12 mill increases. Barbara Specter moved (seconded by Susan Brill), to adopt the 0 mill budget, with a general fund budget for next year of $221 million. Augmenting the general fund budget is the special revenue budget, estimated to be around $25 million.

Budget Discussion Notes:

• Melinda Anderson did not want to hire a data analyst for $75,000. James Manning argued that with only one person in the district analyzing test scores, class size, drop out/retention rates and any requested data snapshots, another employee could help gather timely measurements of student achievement, goals and district data requests. The Information Technology Department says the hiring of the data analyst and 11 more technicians would make R2 competitive with surrounding districts.

• Foreign Language did not make the budget as a line item, but Chairman Bill Flemming said it could be funded through a grant offering online foreign language to the elementary schools.

• The Board suggested deleting a proposed $111,000 staff position to track Quality of Development for para-professionals. That seems a very wise choice considering the reason for including it in the budget in the first place was a $200,000 increase in para-professional training.

• The Board questioned whether hiring four Resource Officers (costing $100,000) for the District’s 18 elementary schools is a cost-effective way to provide safety to those schools.

After more than an hour of discussion, everyone on the Board, except for Specter and Fleming, voted against the 0 mill budget. There will be a budget work session next Tuesday (April 30) at 6 p.m. at the District Office on Brookfield Road. The public is welcome to attend and listen, but public participation is not on the agenda.

Our Board needs to do much more prep on these difficult budget issues. Some Board members have barely spoken at meetings except to say the hosting school is beautiful. While Flemming suggested using reserve funds to pay for recurring expenses instead of limiting use to a one-time fee, as should be done, at least he made a stab at something. I also admire Manning’s bulldog persistence in advocating for foreign language and Specter’s unyielding posture on not raising the tax on businesses. The budget requires wise constructive thinking outside the box. I commend those who have the courage to make any suggestion in public instead of serving silently as some of our Board members do. May the Board, in the future, come to meetings fully prepared and with their thinking caps on.

The proposed budget is on the District’s website: Richland2.org – under the agenda for the April 23 meeting.