In DISD Trustee News: Ranger Unhappy With Citizens Budget Review Commission Line-Up, While Cowan Offers a "Budget Bracket"

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On Friday we were introduced to the Dallas Independent School District's Citizens Budget Review Commission, a 10-member group selected by the school board and Superintendent Michael Hinojosa that's been tasked with helping the administration find places to slash and burn the budget -- without losing teachers, at least as far as some on the commission are concerned. But on her blog, trustee Carla Ranger takes issue with the make-up of the commission, which, as we pointed out Friday, is chaired by Uplift Education Phil Montgomery, chair of charter-schooling Uplift Education's board of directors and a former Dallas Achieves-er. Montgomery isn't the only one on the board with ties to Uplift, which is why, Ranger writes:

There appear to be several potential conflicts of interest which are troubling. Persons who formerly served on Dallas Achieves should not be on this committee. This committee should be a fresh start without citizen input being primarily influenced by previous recommendations.

Persons connected to charter schools have a potential conflict in light of the current push to expand charter schools in Dallas ISD (Charter School Ad Hoc Committee).

Uplift Charter has a potential conflict in light of the Superintendent's intention to partner with them on federal grants and charter school initiatives.

But the commission will only make recommendations. The board will make the final decisions about where -- and who -- to cut. Speaking of ...

On his blog, trustee Eric Cowan goes a little March mad and breaks down the district's Central Administration in to two NCAA-style brackets -- one for Educational Divisions, one for Financial Divisions, pitting departments' budgets against each other by seeds, with the "most expensive" getting the top seed and the least getting the No. 16 spot. (I'm still going with Butler.)

Says Cowan, heh heh, that sure is funny. But also very, very serious:

This light-hearted exercise illustrates the complexity in deciding how to prioritize programs and determining which job functions need to be completely eliminated or partially reduced. Within the budget, each of these departments has other layers of budget codes that range from salaries and benefits to supplies and materials. The challenge is not just determining what and how much to cut, it is important to measure why. Which programs are important to campus support? Which departments are essential to meeting state and federal educational guidelines? How effective are each of these programs and departments?

Dallas ISD might not face the worst-case scenario of a $250 million shortfall but priorities still need to be set. The Board will likely have a very small window of time in terms of approving the budget once the legislature makes their decision. Prioritizing programs and departments will assist in making informed decisions.

The Board of Trustees has two options in how to handle cutting Central's budget. The Board can meet with Administration, review department by department and budget code by budget code, and have them justify every expense. The other option is to agree on a percentage or dollar amount that should be cut and allow Administration to adjust their budget appropriately. In this "New Reality", Central Administration and their support layers need to become lean and efficient in their operations. Our future financial and educational capabilities depend on it.

Over the weekend, incidentally, Cowan wrote that initially, he was "skeptical was skeptical ... of the Administration's recommendation" to create the Citizens Budget Review Commission. "After all," he wrote, "one of the Board's tasks is to review, recommend, and approve the annual budget. However, I recognize this is a positive step towards public transparency and accountability."

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