Updated 8.13.19 afternoon with video. Whitewater’s school board met in special session on Monday night, with two main agenda items: hiring a new middle school principal, and considering among several expenditures from five-hundred thousand dollars available to the district.
A few points to consider:
2. Every new hire represents possibility, and at first only that. One always hopes for the best, as this community has always been deserving of the best. (See Changes at Whitewater Middle School: “There has never been a time – and perhaps never will be – when a mere departure, a mere change of personnel – proved sufficient. A change of leadership is sometimes necessary, but hardly enough, to create a better climate.”)
3. Oddly, it’s in the discussion of the expenditures – what otherwise would seem the smaller matter when compared to the schooling for three grade levels of students – that one encounters an issue almost as important.
The issue is not the money, however large the sum, but how to approach any expenditure.
We live in difficult times, where the end of the Great Recession has left stagnation and poverty, for our rural community and many others.
Under these circumstances, Whitewater’s conditions are less those of a boutique for cosmetic surgery than an emergency room.
Emergency rooms, or other places of serious need, should operate under principles of triage, in which degrees of urgency are assigned to illnesses to decide the order of treatment of a large number of people.
From Whitewater’s district leadership team (DLT) came a list of possible expenditures:
DLT met on August 1st to discuss a 2019-20 budget update. With the budget compiled with all known information, we believe we have $500,000 of revenue or authority available. DLT discussed recommendations:
– Combining two part-time special education paraprofessional vacancies at the HS
– Updating PA systems in three elementaries and MS
– Appropriate additional funds to IT and Curriculum
– Increase sub pay 5% and explore a permanent SpEd para sub
– Waive summer school fees
– Update CO 3rd meeting space
– Increase math interventionist at Washington to 1.0 FTE (from 0.5)
– Add 1.0 FTE pupil services support at Lincoln/Washington (e.g. social worker)
– Increase Lakeview school counselor to 1.0 FTE (from 0.5)
– Appropriate $110,000 for classroom updates (amount dependent on final budget)
Board members had different ideas about whether or how to spend this money, and so there was no action taken.
What’s unexpected, though, is that in difficult economic and fiscal conditions, no one in the meeting could recite from memory an ordered list of district-wide priorities and match that global list against these DLT spending recommendations, right then and there.
Whether in individual agreement or disagreement with such a list, everyone in the district (certainly including elected board members) should be able to recite an agreed-upon triage protocol. Individual disagreement should be encouraged (see Local Gov’t Desperately Needs a Version of the ‘Tenth Man Rule’) but that disagreement requires an established, commonly-understood set of priorities against which to measure alternatives.
There are such priorities, no doubt; what’s odd is that they were not at the ready as a foundation for discussion.
4. A simple matter on spending: all decisions are made at the moment, in the margin. One allocates based on present, prospective needs. A school board member who thought that because the district had spent money on six of something it should spend no more wasn’t thinking reasonably: the key concern isn’t what one has already spent (or saved), but how to spend (or save) when evaluating present needs, not past actions.
To insist on additional spending because one has already spent significantly in the same way in the past, ignoring present need or opportunity, is simply to fall into a sunk cost fallacy. In a similar way, to refuse to spend in the present simply because one has already spent a certain amount in the past is to spend without regard to present need or opportunity.
Given where one stands now, with the needs of the present, what its the best allocation among many possibilities? That’s a reasonable outlook.
Principles of triage should guide that discussion, and deviations from those principles should be well-considered and well-explained.
Keeping common priorities top-of-mind isn’t pessimism – it’s an expression of optimism that one can, truly, act to make a difference even in difficult times.