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Budget Work Session, 4/12 Kaitlyn: Although primarily uneventful, this month’s budget work session covered the school board’s three-year strategic financial plan, fund balance projections, unfunded priority-based budget requests,...
and a short follow-up of the proposed FY 22 operating budget. As a new viewer of these sessions, I found that this stated agenda made it clear what was going to be discussed, making it easier to follow along. As the session began, Dr. Johnson announced that a school shooting had taken place at a school in Knoxville. In just a few sentences, the situation was resolved and was pushed to the back of everyone’s minds in a matter of minutes, following initial thoughts and prayers. Although this was not a part of the budget session, I became aware of the normalization of such horrific events. In recent years, victims of such traumatic tragedies have grown exponentially, with numbers reaching into the hundreds. With the increase of such events, the shock wears off as we think to ourselves, ‘oh, another one?’ I doubt anyone in the audience or on the other side of the screen from Dr. Johnson felt much surprise when hearing of yet another school shooting. I invite you and your peers to question the repercussions and implications of such thinking; what kind of future will this bring forth? If we simply accept that this is our reality, we are unlikely to find a reality where these outbreaks of violence do not plague us.
Having strayed from the topic of this blog, I would like to bring the focus back to the contents of the work session. Continuing with the planned agenda, Dr. Johnson presents a table of priority-based budget requests that will remain unfunded. One hundred and nine requests were cut from the FY 22 proposed operating budget to stay with the fiscally appropriate balance. What struck me the most was that the majority, almost half, were for accelerating student achievement. Taken at face value, I could not tell if this high number was because of the implementation of similar programs or if this area was simply not met. In addition, it was noted that BEP (Basic Education Program) funds would increase by 3% in accordance with the 3% increase of local property tax. I am not sure many residents will respond positively to the latter piece of information, bringing forth new financial concerns for citizens who are already on a tight budget or are fiscally sensitive. I hope that the increased education funds will be seen throughout the county and used accordingly to students’ needs. As the meeting continued, Dr. Johnson discussed the system’s primary goals for the upcoming school years, including increasing literacy rates, refreshing student technology, and expanding opportunities for Future Ready students. As a member of a school that has already started to undergo some of those changes, I hope that these goals can be implemented county-wide, providing similar opportunities for other students.
The rest of the meeting continued without a hitch (mostly). Further on, several School Board Members became locked in a debate on the opportunities and provisions for migrant students. More coverage on Mrs. Thurman and Mrs. Jones’ impassioned dispute will be covered in an upcoming blog by the Student Voice Team (if you don’t want to miss it, be sure to follow us on Instagram!).
As a newcomer to these work sessions, I felt as if they were relatively easy to follow along with. Although a large portion of the agenda was revisions and updates to pre-existing plans, they were explained well enough that I was able to hold a solid grasp of the situation. There were certain situations where I felt further detail might have been beneficial, but a quick google search or reflection of prior sessions cleared up most confusion. Even though it was not the most exciting meeting, excluding the intense debacle, the session was informative and gave a thorough overview of the fiscal school year.
School Board Meeting Budget Discussion, 4/15 Carson: Following the budget work session, the school board budget was brought to the regularly scheduled April Board Meeting with a request for approval. After several of the standard comments of thanks to central office staff and Dr. Johnson from School Board Members, the budget was passed unanimously. This year’s congratulatory remarks took special note of the fact that the budget was balanced and that it was fiscally conservative. The only board member to challenge this notion was Jenny Hill. Hill pointed out that there were no general fund budget increases within this year’s budget, which means that no significant changes were being made to the school system to fulfill the major goals of the school system within their five-year plan. The consensus was still that the budget was what the school system needs at this point, but Hill urged the board to remember throughout the year and for next year that the board needs to take extra care of supporting its strategic plan goals since they are not taking any direct budgeting actions for these goals. Following Hill’s statement, the budget was approved, and the board moved onto the remainder of the school board meeting (more on that from the Student Voice Team here!). For me, this prioritization of fiscal conservatism over progress is somewhat discouraging. As someone who worked to advocate for the proposed budget increase, what is now, several years ago, it still feels like the school system is trying to be on its best behavior so that one day the County Commission will give them the allowance raise they asked for. I have always been amazed by the tremendous goals that the school board has set for itself within their five-year plan, and for years it has seemed that they were on track to success. However, now, it appears that with the early successes that they have seen in many areas, the school system is lowering how much they prioritize their progress towards their goals. I fully understand that this has been a “tough” year and an “uncertain” year, which is one thing that the system has cited again and again as a reason for their conservative budget.
However, as a student who has been expected to proceed like normal despite a global pandemic and countless events of substantial societal impact, I really don’t appreciate that my school district gets to use the pandemic as an excuse for putting off reaching its goals when its students, teachers, parents, and community members have not been given any option like that or even been given enough support to get through the long term impacts that this year will yield.