School budget sunshine

It's school budget time, and our district has invited public input on budget issues at public sessions later this month and next month. Because the district already possesses the taxing authority to raise property taxes significantly to cover the shortfall created by this year's substantial state education funding cuts and the district's perennial operating budget deficit, these public discussions are intended to gauge the balance that the district should strike between budget cuts and tax increases. This could be an invaluable opportunity for people to express, and for the district and school board to hear, what people are willing to fund, or to forgo, when it comes to spending on schools, but a full picture of the district's budget situation is essential for making the most of this opportunity. So, in the spirit of this week's Sunshine Week, here's a budget information wish list:

1. The proposed 2010-2011 budget.
Budget-related discussions have focused on the $30 million funding gap, and budget discussions are on the calendar, but the actual proposed 2010-2011 budget needs to be made available (School Information System has provided assiduous coverage of this issue and overall budget news). The current year's budget, in "citizen's budget" format, was published last week, and the proposed budget for 2010-2011 should be made available in that format as well. In the meantime, here's a treemap comparison of the 2009-10 citizen's budget with the 2007-08 citizen's budget:

This shows relative spending allocations and changes in them over the two periods for which we have budget information in citizen's budget format. However, I am not sure that this budget incorporates ARRA (federal stimulus) expenditures for 2009-10, and it should be updated to include this year's stimulus-funded expenditures if not already accounted for here.

2. Expenditure and budget reduction history.
Here are a couple of charts showing the history of spending increases and budget cuts since property tax limits were enacted in Wisconsin in 1993. It would be useful to bring these charts current with proposed budget information (in addition, the expenditure numbers for the past few years in the first chart below need to be updated to "actuals," which I don't have).

3. Future funding issues.  Long-term and short-term budget projections that include:
  • Contingency plans to address the likelihood of future deficits and unfunded liabilities for the state and Milwaukee Public Schools and their impact on state funding for our district, and competing demands on the taxpayer from other taxing authorities, local through federal. 
  • Specifics of all "funding cliffs" (from the stimulus and all other limited-term funding sources) that are embedded in the proposed budget. 
  • Disclosure of the 2010-2011 and permanent budget commitment and funding assumptions for 4-year-old kindergarten (which the district was rushed into adopting in order to meet the deadline for the state's failed Race to the Top bid).
  • Descriptions and explanations of (consistent with GASB) how non-pension retirement benefits are being addressed.
4. Program evaluation. Which programs work well, which not so well, and what is their cost? This should be a continual, year-round process, not one that comes to the fore only at budget time.

5. Data access. RSS feeds for budget information updates, and data in slice-and-dice-able format, please!

[Updated 3/28/10 to include subsequently obtained actuals for 2007-08 and 2008-09.]

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