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It's Not Good . . . So Now What? – Part I

By Tahir Ahad - October 31, 2008

By now, all of us have heard the news – and it is not good. Although the size of the projected deficit keeps changing (depending upon who one talks to), one common thread remains.  The imbalance in the state budget is substantial.

Even the eternally optimistic Governor Schwarzenegger estimates the deficit as high as 10 billion dollars.  And we know he is no "economic girlie-man".  So when he projects doom and gloom, we must listen.  Do we miss those vehicle registration fee increases yet?

While everyone in Sacramento feverishly continues to report on the events that may affect local school district budgets, and as the education community energizes to fight off midyear reductions, we believe that prudent management requires forward thinking and advanced planning to prepare for the worst case scenario.

In that regard, to assist our colleagues and practitioners in the field, we plan to list, on a weekly basis, a few time-tested and reliable budget development processes and tools.  Although none of these ideas are probably new or innovative, it may be helpful to receive a reminder as you prepare to start the budget development process for 2009-10 fiscal year and face any yet-to-be-known midyear reductions.

We recommend that you start conversations with your employee units’ leadership about the budget reductions that may be needed this year and next year.  The relationships you have established and nurtured over time should be utilized to educate them about the need, and the fact that the magnitude of the expected reduction is likely to affect all groups of employees.  No group or individual can be guaranteed job security.

Certificated union leadership should understand, with a little help from you, that taking immediate measures for cost reduction may help minimize the impact of budget reductions during the next two years.  Although there are always some exceptions, in general, those who lead the teachers, counselors and other certificated staff should be interested in participating in problem solving, not only for the sake of the greater good, but also for the purpose of keeping their existing members employed as long as possible.

Timely discussions about class size and resulting staffing ratios can be very helpful. You could take immediate steps at the secondary schools to consolidate some second semester classes.  In addition, a proposal to temporarily increase some class sizes and modify other staffing ratios for the next two to three years may be in order.

Classified union leadership can help mitigate a potentially devastating impact on their membership by allowing the district to keep vacant positions unfilled and, in the interim, staffed by temporary employees.  They can also assist by agreeing to reassignment of employees in positions in different classifications for which they may be qualified.

We recommend that human resource officers start compiling the information in regard to seniority, bumping rights, credentialing, subject area need and other qualifying criteria to prepare for the coming months.

Things can always improve, and we hope they do.  However, in the meantime, thoughtful discussions with your partners in education and a bit of proactive planning can go a long way.

More to come later…...

Editor's Note: Tahir Ahad is the President of the educational consulting firm, Total School Solutions.