DISD board delays budget decision another week

No decision Thursday on what to do about DISD’s budget shortfall, but that’s not a bad thing. As we talked about last week, the school board members appear to be more engaged — and why wouldn’t they, having been partially responsible for what has happened — and the administration appears to be answering the board’s questions, even if it takes considerably more prodding than seems necessary. It’s a big problem, politics and kids are involved, the media is watching, and people are laughing and expecting the worst, so taking a little more time to consider the alternatives appears to be a prudent move.

Much of the discussion at today’s meetings, with updates courtesy of the Observer and the DMN, centered on whether school board members are entitled to see a list of "to-be-laid-off" people before (several board members’ position) or after (the administration’s position) those to be terminated find out for themselves. It’s an interesting employment question — how many people should find out someone is being laid off before the victim himself/herself finds out? If it was me, I’d prefer to find out before everyone else, but this is public money, so I can see the other side of the coin, too. Ultimately, the school board is the boss here, and if the board’s choice is to see the names first, so be it.
Also lots of wrestling Thursday about whether every stone has been turned over looking for savings prior to cutting teachers. The administration seemed to think it had exhausted its options; a majority of board members seemed to believe otherwise. I thought it was interesting, though, that cutting additional per-student funding for DISD learning centers appeared to be a non-starter, primarily because board members Ron Price and Carla Ranger believe that cut would be squarely aimed at black students. That’s purportedly $18 million or so in additional expenditures, if learning center schools were funded the same way as other schools; as far as I know, no one is talking about closing the learning centers, just equalizing the expenditures. Looking at the situation another way, why should any school receive more economic resources than any other school? Given that the district is desegregated now, channeling extra funds to any specific school(s) seems discriminatory by itself.

So in the end, the board voted 6-3 to delay a vote until at least next week’s meeting. And prior to any vote, it appears the list of people to be terminated will be reviewed by the board. Again, these steps seem prudent, given that the board members are unpaid volunteers, they haven’t had much time (just a couple of weeks) to digest the problem, and it’s their right to fully consider the options prior to voting.

All of this — in terms of the process of evaluating this issue, not the budget screw-up itself — seems like something to be proud of rather than something to ridicule, as so many people seem to be doing. How we got into this situation needs to be resolved, certainly, but if the board members take a few additional days to make sure that a minimum number of teachers are terminated, aren’t they just doing what any of us would do if we faced a similar decision? And once they’ve put the cuts behind them, it looks like they’ll be eager to make sure DISD doesn’t wind up in this situation again any time soon. And as Martha Stewart would say, that’s a good thng.


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