Thursday, September 19, 2013

To carryover or not to carryover, that is the question.

To carryover or not to carryover, that is the question.

Much has been made of school districts' carryovers in the past couple of weeks.  Carryover, for those not familiar with educational jargon, is the term given to the money a school district has saved at the end of the year.  In my household we call our carryover a savings account.  Actually, as an educator we refer to it as the "coins found in the couch".  Instead of paycheck to paycheck like a family, school superintendents and school boards of education carryover their savings from one fiscal year to the next.  Carryover funds are important to school districts, but moreover it is extremely important to the students.

No doubt you've heard the many reasons why school's carryover money.  Sure, schools carryover money so they can pay the bills (you know those pesky teacher's salaries, electric bills, and school supplies - like paper and textbooks) until the combination of state and local tax dollars get disbursed. But, in my opinion, the biggest reason why superintendents and school boards manage the finances to maximize carryover funds is to protect the educational opportunities of the student.  Let me say it this way; maximizing the carryover maximizes factors that lead to student learning.  You want your child's 3rd grade class to be split into classes of 20 instead of 25 because of the new 3rd grade promotion law? Carryover funds make that decision possible.  Want your child's bus to be less than 10 years old?  Carryover funds make that decision possible.  Want your child to be able to take art, band, AG, choir, yearbook, or AP classes?  Carryover funds make that decision possible.  Want your child to go on field trips, have access to technology, have safe playground equipment, and a decent meal in the cafeteria?  Carryover funds make that decision possible.  And before you discount any of the previous statements, think about what would be the first thing a school would have had to cut because of the devastating decreases in funding over the last four years (It has been reported recently that Oklahoma leads the nation in educational funding cuts at around $810 per student) if not for carryover funds.

So now that we have established that carryover funds are not just important but educationally vital, let's explore the recent attacks on school carryover funds.  For the record, I'm having a really tough time believing the increase in carryover funds from 11-12 to 12-13 is $205 million.  I know several superintendents would swear it is not possible, especially as they watched their district's carryover shrink for the second or third straight year. But for arguments sake, let's say the increase in carryover is $205 million.  Let's put this amount in perspective shall we?  There is 1,057,955 weighted students in Oklahoma.  That works out to be a savings of $195.00 per weighted student for the year, $16.25 per month, or about $1.00 per day!  I'm saving more than $195.00 per year cutting coupons!  Are people supposed to be upset superintendents are actually saving taxpayer dollars?  Seriously! We put more money than this in the state's rainy day fund and people are holding press conferences to pat themselves on the back.  But educators save some money for their rainy day and it gets reported as a bad thing?

You want more proof the dim-witted argument against school leaders saving taxpayer money is bogus?  Their argument suggests all schools are equally guilty of saving money instead of providing essential educational services.  Saving money instead of providing services is the only logical reason anyone could be against school districts being fiscally responsible.  If this is happening, isn't the local board of education responsible and ultimately held accountable by their community?  If this isn't happening, if services are being provided and money is still being saved, what is the alternative? Waste taxpayer money on goods and services that are not needed and not educationally effective?  As a Republican this is irritating on 2 levels: the state superseding local control and government waste.

 Republicans are all about local control and stopping government waste.  So what is the real reason school carryover funds are under attack?  Is it because for the past 3 years there has not been one public mention of pay raises for teachers from the State Department of Education and we are now in an election year?  If giving teachers a pay raise is a true priority for our elected leaders, then why not demand a teacher raise with the same zeal being demonstrated in attacking school superintendents and school boards of education?