Today we begin a 2 part series in which we opine on the budget reduction crisis facing D181. Part 1 will address "How Did We Get Into This Mess." The second part, to be posted soon, will address: "How to Erase the Deficit."
Before weighing in, we, the bloggers, decided to do our homework. We have spent over 20 hours
-- reviewing all available materials,
-- including listening to past podcasts including the BOE's and Administration's discussion on the proposed budget cuts at the February 12th meeting and the Finance Committee's discussion on Febuary 6,
--monitoring our readers' comments on this blog,
-- monitoring comments posted by D181 parents on other social media websites,
--reviewing all budget materials and minutes of past board meetings at which tax levies and budgets have been addressed and
-- reviewing the D181 staff's' survey comments that are now available on BoardDocs.
We do not suggest that our opinions and conclusions that follow are the only right ones, but we do believe they are logical. As always, we encourage continuing debate by our readers. We invite our readers to SOUND OFF on our opinions and conclusions, but suggest that you first take the time to:
-- Review the Proposed Cut List: 2/8/18 proposed cut list
-- Read the District's summary of the 2/12 BOE meeting: 2/12/18 Meeting Summary
-- Read the Doing's article summarizing the 2/12 meeting: 2/13/18 Doings Article
-- Read the Hinsdalean's article summarizing the 2/12 meeting:See Page 5 of 2/15/18 Hinsdalean
-- Read the Staff Survey comments:Staff Comments on Proposed Budget Cuts
-- Listen to the Podcast of the 2/12 BOE Meeting (yes, it is long, but you owe it to your children):https://livestream.com/ccsd181/boe/videos/170156151
-- Listen to the Podcastof the 2/6 Finance Committee Meeting:https://livestream.com/ccsd181/boe/videos/169903068
OUR OPINIONS AND CONCLUSIONS:
PART I: HOW DID WE GET INTO THIS MESS
1. For at least the last 3 1/2 years on Don White's watch as superintendent and Ken Surma's as Assistant Superintendent of Business and Operations, D181 has been living beyond it's means. (Note: Following Surma's "resignation" last year, he was replaced by Moshin Dada, whose title is Chief Financial Officer and Treasurer). Despite the BOE repeatedly asking the administration to identify and inform the board of actual District NEEDS that required annual funding, and that would drive the annual tax levy determination, prior to Dada's hire, the administration failed to do so. As a result of White and Surma's not informing the BOE of the District's true NEEDS, until last December the BOE had not "levied to the max" for several years. It "left money on the table" -- revenues that were actually needed to pay for capital needs -- and that can NEVER be recouped.
2. During Board discussions leading up to the levy rate determinations over the last four years, the BOE told the adminsitration it would always find a way to pay for NEEDS, but the adminstration would have to identify them. Instead of identifying actual needs, the adminstration came to the BOE with "wants." The administration ignored the capital needs of all the schools other than Hinsdale Middle School. It failed to develop and present to the BOE a Facilities Master Plan. It failed to develop a 5 year budget and its monthly budget reports were repeatedly late and often based simply on projections and not actuals. During the HMS referendum process, critics pointed this out and demanded that a Facilities Master plan be finalized before "bells and whistles" were incorporated into the very expensive new middle school project. Yet as we sit here writing this post, no plan has been presented or approved by the BOE. Some board members also recommended that the HMS Referendum include monies to spend on needed capital improvements at the other schools, but the administration did not recommend this and with no Facilities Master Plan to back up this suggestion, the majority of the board did not vote to include anything for the other schools in the referendum. (Note: We are aware that work on finalizing a Facilities Master Plan has been done since Dada's hire to develop a Facilities Master Plan, but until it is actually BOE approved, there is no final road map for the district to follow.)
3. One example of White and Surma asking the BOE to approve wants instead of needs was that instead of identifying millions in needed capital expenditures at ALL the schools, the BOE was asked to shift monies away from a needed roof replacement at Elm School to pay for a fancy paver driveway at Monroe. Fortunately the BOE realized before it was too late that this would be totally inappropriate.
4. Not until last fall, after the BOE hired Moshin Dada to replace Ken Surma and run the business department, was the board finally informed of the millions of dollars in capital needs that had been ignored. (Source: 5/22/17 Personnel Consent Agenda) Mr. Dada threw himself into the job of figuring out the true state of the district's finances and what he discovered was shocking to all of us. He is the first administrator in years to realize that the district is in financial trouble and that the administration acted in a completely irresponsible manner (our words, not his) by blindly recommending unnecessary luxury facilities' improvements and curriculum, technology and transportation expenditures that it could not really afford.
5. For example, the administration recommended the BOE approve 1 to 1 technology, create many new positions such as multiple Teachers on Assignment and Middle School Content Specialists, and increase full time teachers by not following class size guidelines. Further to appease certain board members' concerns about students "lack of sleep," the administration recommended changes to the school start times, which had the effect of driving transportation costs up by over $300,000. All of these expenditures drove the budget into deficit -- but a deficit that was hidden in the shadows because the administration had failed to budget for the needed capital expenditures at 8 of our schools. But worse yet, all the while the budget was growing, the administration failed to identify $690,000 in "inefficiencies" --until Mr. Dada finally did so.
6. One can only wonder how the district's finances could have been ignored for so long on White and Surma's watch, but if you do your research, you will discover that White created a new position for Surma when he started at D181. Surma worked for White at his old district, but not as a financial administrator and when he started in D181 White created a brand new position for him called Assistant Superintendent of Information Services and Operations. After a vacancy was created when the existing Assistant Superintendnt of Business and Operations retired (rumors indicate he was run out for no good reason and he is now working -- not retired -- in another state), White promoted Surma. No "search" was conducted to hire an experienced or seasoned financial officer. (Sources: http://www.mysuburbanlife.com/2014/07/15/district-181-adds-second-former-troy-superintendent/am110on/, 7/9/2014 Personnel Consent Agenda, 5/18/2015 Personnel Consent Agenda)
7. Since his hire, Mr. Dada has shown no fear in telling it like it is. The district deficit must be erased this year because if not, it will only get worse. He has clearly informed the board that the cuts will not be easy but that they are necessary. He has also been quite candid in explaining why the deficit must not be handled by spending down the district's reserves and that to do so would be fiscally irresponsible.
8. Thank you to Mr. Dada for finally telling the community what the true state of the district's budget is. It is disheartening to realize that Don White failed to do so and will now waltz out of the fiscal mess his administration created, leaving it to the new superintendent to deal with.
Now that the community (or most of us) have finally woken up to the truth, hard choices must be made by the BOE to erase the deficit. We are finalizing our commentary on the cuts that we believe should be made and will post Part 2 of this Series shortly. Until then, SOUND OFF! We'd love to hear from you!