CBE Budget: Is public feedback welcome?

On May 3, the trustees debated about when administration should present the budget to trustees. The administration was prepared to do it on May 24th, but because Trustee Ferguson would not be able to attend on that day, this didn’t happen. June 7th was also eliminated because a key administrator would not be able to attend. Thus, we have our current date of the budget being presented on June 14th, the second last board meeting of the year. As with regular reports, the budget document will be couriered to the houses of the trustees on the Friday beforehand, giving them less than 4 days to review the budget. The public will be given a day to review the budget (unless it is embargoed).

Is such a short timeframe for the trustees and the public necessary? Since the administration was prepared to present the budget on May 24th, there is no reason why the budget document could not be made public now. This would give trustees and the public ample time to inform themselves, engage in a dialogue, submit questions to be asked of the administration and seek clarification on important matters.

When ARTICS proposed an early release of the budget document to the Board of Trustees, we were informed that the two weeks between the presentation of the budget and the “approval” of the budget on June 28th, the last meeting of the school year, was sufficient time for public feedback. We question the validity of this for the following reasons:

1. If public feedback can only be gathered during this two week period, then public concerns and questions can only be brought up on June 28th, the day the budget is to be “approved.” This does not allow any time for follow-up questions or clarification of answers. How is the public to provide appropriate feedback if they lack information because their questions have not been answered? It often feels as if we spend more time trying to get information rather than working together to find creative solutions to problems.

2. If the public does have some innovative ideas on how the budget can be improved, this timeline does not allow for any recommendations for changes. The trustees cannot change any part of the budget on June 28th. They can only approve it or send it back to the administration with recommendations, but as this is the last board meeting of the year, this is unlikely. Has this budget already been tacitly approved without the trustees or the public having seen it? This timeline and the use of the word “approval” in the communication from the Board of Trustees seems to imply so.

The Chief Superintendent, Naomi Johnson, has publicly stated that this is the most difficult budget that she has seen in her 30 years of experience. We acknowledge the fact that this is a very difficult budget, which is all the more reason for the entire process to be as transparent and accessible as possible. We need everyone to be working together in order to minimize the impact on our students, but we can’t do that without adequate information.

We invite the CBE Board of Trustees to reconsider directing the administration to release the budget by June 7th in order to allow the public to provide informed, constructive and respectful feedback.

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