Thursday, November 18, 2010

An ugly state aid timeline is projected for NE Schools

I am at the Nebraska School Boards conference in Papillion. The place is crawling with Superintendents, district administrators, and school board members from across the state. Yesterday were the pre-conference workshops and the regular sessions run today and conclude with a Friday luncheon. Yesterday afternoon I attended the NE School Business Officials meeting. Speakers included Russ Inbody with the NE Department of Education's School Finance office and Michael Dulaney, the Executive Director of the NE Council of School Administrators.

These guys and the other school finance folks who spoke were eloquent and informed, but it was like a three hour Debby Downer monologue. Here's one factor to worry about:

Timeline: The timeline on state aid is not going to work out well for school districts for budgetary planning purposes.  By law, schools have to inform teachers of their employment status for the next year by April 15th.  Though the target date for getting a certified state aid number from the state for 2011-12 will be April 1st, there was widespread acknowledgment at yesterday's meeting that this is wishful thinking and April 1 is going to come and go, as will April 15th, without schools knowing what they are going to receive in state aid for the 2011-12 school year.  The problem with this is that the vast majority of a school's expenditures are tied up in personnel, and in particular certificated personnel, so if a district has to make reductions beyond what attrition might cover, then they have to go through a RIF (Reduction In Force) process and they have to enact that and work through notifications, procedures, and due process steps within that timeline.  It puts districts in a bad place because you either gamble that it's not going to be that bad, and you could end up with insufficient funds on hand to sustain your current personnel, or you do what some districts have done in the past which is to issue a mass RIF and that is very destructive to morale and leaves everyone wondering whether their job status is secure.  The problem is that a school district is supposed to make a promise to its employees by April 15th but for many districts, like Norris, half of our budget is state aid and won't be known by that date.  Tough situation.

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