School district 271 is in transition, I hope. Since taking over the top job last June, Hazel Bauman has made several bold moves, but serious questions remain about whether she has, in fact, stepped away from the status quo.
Her positive actions include a series of truly open, public meetings last summer, the appointment of a citizen Finance Panel with a follow-up recommendation forum, and the subsequent reduction of $1 million from the upcoming supplemental levy request.
Of the questions that remain, though, many center on why so few of the Finance Panel’s recommendations were implemented and why the levy was not reduced even further:
--Why was a RFP (Request for Proposal) not sent out to get info on outsourcing bus transportation services, which could increase state reimbursement and save money? The decision to stay with the current bus system was made without comparative bids or complete information.
--Why was the IB (International Baccalaureate) program retained when the cost per student is high and the previous AP (Advanced Placement) program is more effective and far less expensive?
--Why has no progress been made on negotiations with the Teacher’s Union? A proportional reduction in health care insurance for part-time employees could save the district $500,000, according to one Finance Panel member. (This would mean that half-time employees would get half the benefits, and so on. Right now, staff working 20 hours or more per week get full benefits for themselves and their families.)
A statistical comparison, done by one of the Finance Panel members, between the three area school districts of CdA, Post Falls and Lakeland, shows some interesting differences. CdA’s school district is noticeably “top heavy” as compared to the neighbors, with significantly higher ratios of administrators to teachers and administrators to students. CdA also has double the dependence on supplemental levies. That’s very important. Almost 15% of the annual budget for the CdA district comes from the supplemental levy, compared to only 5% for Post Falls and 8% for Lakeland.
Has Hazel done enough to push for change in the district? Has she insisted on increased efficiencies and deeper budget cuts? Hazel works for the School Board, who are the folks making the final decisions, so are they part of the solution or part of the problem? Why is the board not directing Hazel and staff to implement even more fiscally responsible restructuring? I hear that the school board initially wanted to increase
the levy and that they limited reductions to just $1 million.
Reports are that district administrators say there’s a “Plan B” in case this April 21st supplemental levy does not pass; that they would revamp the levy request and bring it back to the voters with the May 19th school board election.
(It seems odd that the levy is being held on a separate date. I know the state mandates school board elections must be in May, but the school board pulled the levy to a different date. The levy draws the most people out to vote. Is that the reason? Do the incumbents on the school board want a smaller turnout for their election?)
All in all, this past year cannot have been easy for Hazel. I’m sure she’s not sitting around with her feet up, eating bon bons and sipping tea. It’s hard to tell if the district can get reorganized, and we all know big changes often take time, but as voters we must be involved. So, please, read all you can about the upcoming levy. There are letters and guest editorials in the newspaper, there are fliers and pamphlets going around town, and you can check out the district’s levy information web site at: http://www.cdalevy.org