Ron Isaac’s Budgetcrats Giveth and Taketh Away

Apr 8, 2021 by

“What’s not to love in this budget?”  many school principals have asked.  

But often they speak too soon.  They suffer from premature expectation, a common dysfunction of uninitiated idealists.

“Better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all”?   Not when what is lost is the means to provide children with an optimal education.

A package of money is not, of course, an amorous object in the usual sense.  But often before principals can flirt with ideas how to best invest it, they get jilted by the reality of Department of Education practice, which is to suddenly send an often unanticipated heap of money to a school and force them to spend it almost literally overnight or else forfeit it.

Sometimes the amount is a surprise and arrives with little or no advanced notice. The result is that the cash may no longer be available when most needed even in the near future, or that it showed up too late for it to have been committed to the school’s most pressing needs.

It’s use or lose.  A cruel tease.  Romancing the numbers.

The media reported last week the good news about the restoration of school budgets that had been slashed because of declining enrollment.  The DOE, however, has a proclivity for making lemons out of lemonade, as they mandated that the replenished money be spent during the current year or else revert to the DOE’s roly-poly coffers.

That might jeopardize tutoring and other instructional support as well as programming enhancement for September to help compensate for this academically- crippled year.  Nor could the funds be disbursed for computers and other technology because the deadline for such purchases had already passed prior to the budget relief.

The DOE’s spokesperson praised the Agency’s “flexibility” as evidenced by their two-week extension on the procurement of tables and chairs.

Wooden fluff.

Veterans of the school system have been conditioned to see the proverbial glass as half full.  If resources can’t be superlatively utilized,  any positive outcome is preferable to nothing helpful at all.  

But why isn’t there a more sensible policy put into practice?  Would it violate sound accountancy principles?  It seems so arbitrary, illogical and wasteful.

Are the DOE actors fiduciary flukes?

Because of the unprecedented pandemic, this school year has been an  anomaly for many standpoints.  Perhaps a few bumps on the budgetary road should be expected and excused.  

However, the DOE’s standard operating procedure as regards school budgets has been loony for many years.  Making money vanish at midnight like Cinderella or commitments to students fade away like disappearing ink is economic eccentricity.

It is also disrespectful to the school community, including the leadership teams which sometimes are left out of the school budgeting decision-process because of pressures of time, despite the fact that their participation is supposed to be obligatory.

Even when the DOE behaves like a good-faith partner in the running of our schools, they are often ineffectual because they are so removed from the actual educational theaters.  This being “out of touch” is much more than mere geographical remoteness.

Their “now you see it, now you don’t”   game with precious dollars is an exasperating example of a “warped speed”  freakishness and it hurts our kids.

As Shakespeare might have said, “All’s well that spends well!”

Ron Isaac

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