What a fascinating little story. Here’s the nub from Washington County Insider.
January 15, 2020 – West Bend, WI – During the Jan. 6, 2020 meeting of the West Bend School Board students packed the board room. High school students and parents spoke about funds being cut for clubs like forensics and debate and the school music program was even mentioned.
When students in attendance were asked where the information about funding cuts came from, none could answer.
So here’s the thing… there weren’t any cuts. None. At all. The school district budgeted the same amount for this year as they did last year. The Superintendent shared that what actually happened is that the Forensics/Debate clubs massively overspend their budget last year and just rolled into this year assuming that they could spend the same amount. They hit a wall and ran out of money and just assumed that their budget was “cut.” I posted my exchange with the superintendent at the bottom for more explanation, but here are a few thoughts about it:
- How does a club with a $6,700 budget overspend it by $4,062? That’s a variance of 61%. Who signed off on that? What financial controls are in place? Is anyone being held accountable? I’m still hoping for answers to those questions.
- Think about how this became an issue… students, clearly encouraged by their teachers and parents, flooded a school board meeting to complain about “budget cuts.” Where were the adults to teach these kids critical thinking? Did anyone of them actually look at the budget and expenditures before making that claim? Did anyone ask the administration or anyone else before going straight to the board? Were the adults that disinterested or too stupid to ask those questions themselves? It appears that the adults here were more interested in their kids being activists than in teaching them critical thinking, financial skills, or dispute resolution. These kids were really let down by the adults in their lives.
- Perhaps worst of all was the reaction by school board member Nancy Justman. Without any evidence, facts, or, apparently, knowledge of the budgets that she voted for, she instantly took up the cause of the kids. She harangued the Superintendent to find the money and decried how deplorable the “budget cuts” were. She behaved more like a PTO member than an elected member of a public board responsible for the sound management of an entire school district.
There are still more details to uncover, but this story was very revealing from several angles. Here are more details from my conversation with the superintendent. This is a public record.
I am not sure if this answers your questions or not but do not hesitate to reach out if you have additional questions or need additional clarification.
Where individual line items within our chart of accounts are monitored regularly for appropriate activity, our schools and programs are given an allocation for distribution and that allocation balance is monitored much more religiously than individual line items both by school administration and district administration.
As both East and West high schools were well within their allocations, we were confident that the overage for forensics was able to be absorbed within the schools’ expenditures. Further, this was not just one line item in our accounts but several; hence, there was not one large overage but rather several smaller ones which does happen on occasion.
You are correct in that a budget is a financial plan and that plan changed slightly for this overage for forensics this past year. This is why discussions occurred dating back to August and into the fall to be proactive as their season approached and to be financial stewards of their club allocation. As stated in my earlier email, we’ll continue to work with our groups to make sure we maintain proper protocols for budget-to-activity monitoring.
On Wed, Jan 15, 2020 at 10:25 AM Owen <firstname.lastname@example.org> wrote:
Thanks, Don. Can you walk me through the process of how a budget gets overspent? Are their financial safeguards in place? Who authorized it? I assume that someone had to authorize the expenditure. Was that at the club level or admin?
Thanks. Budgets are always an estimate, but if they were going that far over budget, I’d just like to understand how that could happen.
Good morning Owen,
This is a complicated budgeting process. There are district funds and district transportation and club funds. Both East and West have separate allocations for forensics and debate is a combined activity. I believe you are correct in that what was overspent in the past was actually consider the budget instead of the actual budget amount. This spring we will look at the entire budget process. In the case of forensics either the budget need to be adjusted to reflect the expenses or the expenses needs to be adjusted to reflect the budget. For the 2019-20 school year, we are going to amend the budget to reflect the 2018-19 expenses. Actual budgets were not decreased for the current year.
East and West each have a Forensics budget of $6,700 plus transportation. Forensics are separate but debate is combined. Last year, West had expenses that were $356 over the budget and East had expenses that were $4,062 over budget. There may have been some expenses that were miscoded from West to East and East attended several more events than West.
We are going to make it work for the current year and have more in the future.
On Wed, Jan 15, 2020 at 7:21 AM Owen <email@example.com> wrote:
Good morning, Don.
I’ve been following with interest the kerfuffle over extracurricular club funding. The story in the paper did not have any specifics. Could you please tell me:
– What was the budget for extracurricular clubs last year?
– How much did they overspend?
– Who overspent? Which club(s)?
– What is the budget this year? Same?
I understand from the story in the Daily News that the overage was covered by a budget surplus last year. Is the whole issue here that they overspent and thought that was the new budget?