Several months ago, during a retreat with Superintendent Matthew Sickles, the Board of Education made a goal to provide taxpayers with a higher level of transparency during our budget process.
We promised to provide a deeper understanding of our process and share more information on the components that make up the budget. Our process began with that meeting but our work started in the fall.
The board moved meetings with teachers, building representatives, coaches, and other staff from January to November to identify needs earlier in our budget timeline. These meetings have always been informative but we found that they were being held too late to have a real impact in our decision-making.
A number of initiatives resulted from these meetings, including an increase to our Arts in Education budget line and the creation of a “Transitional Kindergarten” position. The Arts in Education investment will help our teachers enrich student learning by increasing opportunities for field trips and school programs. The “Transitional Kindergarten” position will provide a new focus on early childhood education with a goal of eliminating achievement gaps in English language arts and mathematics.
We also witnessed an entirely different level of budget education during several presentations held throughout the winter and into early spring (the latter better labeled as “extended winter” in upstate New York).
Business Administrator Tracy Marshall presented a number of detailed reports on the major portions of our budget, including income, expenses, and reserves. Each presentation took a deep dive into these areas, explained how they are made up, and how changing one impacts the other.
The board was able to see how a change in program needs and natural attrition would allow us to make multiple additions with minimal taxpayer impact.
For example, a new K-6 school counselor will help us better serve our elementary students and their families. A new modified track coach will help us keep up with growing student interest. A full-time bus dispatcher will help support and coordinate the extensive transportation of our students within and beyond the boundaries of the district. Maintenance positions are also included to care for our facilities and provide the best possible learning environment for our students. These additions are being made with a minimal increase in costs by using employee retirements as an opportunity to reevaluate our needs and shift resources to create new opportunities.
The final piece of our budget process includes an aggressive outreach to educate members of our community on our 2019-20 district budget.
Board members and district administrators will host community budget presentations with the Clifton Springs Rotary, Phelps American Legion, the Midlakes PTO, and other interested parties in the days leading up to the May 21 district vote. We will also share our budget work with district faculty and staff.
These meetings – affectionately dubbed our “Traveling Budget Road Show” – help us keep our promise of providing more transparency during our budget process. It also provides an opportunity for the community to learn about some of the exciting changes on campus.
We’ve built a budget based on informed decisions guided by how to best use limited resources to maximize our investment in students, so those students can maximize the return on that investment.
The board has already seen how its emphasis on community involvement and communication has led to greater awareness and a level of excitement by the school community. It’s something that I am proud to see as a Midlakes alumnus.
We hope it continues with members of the community joining us for one of our budget presentations. It may not be as exciting as a parade led by local firefighters and police down Main Street, but it is just as important. After all, the dollars we invest today will lead to someone’s parade tomorrow.
RYAN DAVIS is a member of the Phelps-Clifton Springs Board of Education. Find contact information for the entire Board of Education by visiting Midlakes.org/boardmembers.