Quolke Corner 156 SBB…Student Based Budgeting or Schools Being Broken?

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Q Corner #156

SBB…Student Based Budgeting or Schools Being Broken?

The CMSD’s newest approach to what they call decentralization/greater Principal autonomy is what is being referred to as Student Based Budgeting or SBB.  Unfortunately, SBB is anything but funds being focused on students or our schools.   From our initial data the CMSD seems to be using the guise of SBB to slash almost every school’s budget in the name of decentralization and throw principals and school teams under the bus by forcing them to decide what to cut.  DON’T BE FOOLED…SBB seems more like Schools Being Broken.

Every time that I have heard someone from the district describe Student Based Budgeting they use an example of a school that wants to/needs to improve reading achievement and with their school based budget, the school can provide extra reading teachers, or additional reading tutoring or specialized reading services (like Sylvan).  That sounds good.  I have heard that if a STEM school (for example) needs to/wants to offer more science and math experiences for the students that can be achieved through student based budgeting.  That sounds good.  However, this is not the reality that is playing out all over the district.  Instead of schools being able to offer students more individual instruction, small class sizes, additional tutoring, new programming – schools are forced to decide what to cut.

Another interesting component of this new systematic breaking of the schools is that fact that principals are forced to do this budget cutting AND also create a plan that is going to dramatically improve student academic achievement.  Ah, the often tried and true method of school reform – cut your way to success.

DON’T BE FOOLED by a slick name like Student Based Budgeting.  Other districts call it School Based Funding, Equitable Student Funding, etc. but no matter what name you give it, all too often it is used to cut the resources that should be going to our kids and our neighborhood schools and not being an investment in our schools.

DON’T BE FOOLED by the public relations cheerleading around  “decentralization” and “greater school/principal autonomy”.  When downtown central administrators decide a formula on what students are “worth” and what they “decide” schools should get, and almost every school gets their budget slashed….it is not decentralization!  It’s throwing principals and schools under the bus to cut their own services to our students. 

DON’T BE FOOLED.  School budgets around the district are being cut by $100,000; $200,000; $500,000; $900,000 up to and in excess of $1.7 million dollars per school.  All this on the heels of the citizens of Cleveland passing a 15 mill levy to invest in our schools not slash their budgets and staff.  No one in this community was led to believe the district would be disinvesting in their neighborhood schools.  In fact, the CMSD heavily promoted a PR campaign around Investment Schools, smaller class sizes, and more services for students. 

DON’T BE FOOLED...SBB is anything but decentralization.  It is massive cuts that downtown CMSD is making.  It is downtown CMSD attempting to shift the blame on principals and schools for any cuts they make.  Principals and school teams should not be asked to choose between having a secretary or a teacher.  Principals and school teams should not be asked to choose between huge class sizes or instructional materials.  Most Principals and school teams being asked to make these significant cuts do not have training in managing million dollar budgets.  Most Principals and school teams are not comfortable making the choices they are being forced to make.  DON’T BE FOOLED… SBB is Schools Being Broken!

So who is the brainchild of SBB?  While greater principal autonomy was clearly a part of the Cleveland Plan, SBB never found its way into the HB 525 legislation and is not any requirement of the law.  I suspect it was part of those secret behind closed doors meetings between the Greater Cleveland Partnership, CMSD, Cleveland Foundation, Gund Foundation, Breakthrough Charter Schools and the Mayor that never involved the community, parents or CTU.  While none of those groups seem to be taking initial credit/blame for this disaster, CFO John Scanlon and CAO Michelle Pierre-Farid, along with another consultant group…ERS…have been the district’s cheerleaders in rolling out the SBB (Schools Being Broken) plan to principals and school teams.  With the number of consultants that seem to occupying 1111 Superior Avenue these days, its no wonder why so many schools and principals (and soon to be parents and community members) are outraged over having to make cuts.

The district’s Chief Financial Officer John Scanlon introduced School Based Budgeting to the Rochester Schools in 2011 while they were in the midst of an $8 million deficit.  This methodology was used to force schools to make their cuts.  In some ways I can see why a CFO would like a methodology that cuts budgets and puts money in the district coffers.  However, I do not see how the Chief Academic Officer can be behind a methodology that forces school principals to cut their way to success.  How can a Chief Academic Officer believe that the academic achievement that is so necessary for our schools can be reached when a school has to cut hundreds of thousands of dollars that could go to improving academic outcomes.

What makes this even more outrageous is the lack of investment we are seeing in our schools.  ERS, the consultant firm, along with our CFO and CAO somehow came up with a figure of $3,600 per student (ie. Student Based Budgeting) to fund our schools.  That is less than 65% of the state funding per pupil going into our schools.  We all know the state formula for funding schools is unconstitutional, but if you add the state guarantee to Cleveland ($75 million) it looks as if less than 50% of state money earmarked per student is actually being invested in our kids.   And this counts for NO levy dollars being invested.  DON’T BE FOOLED.  If this was really decentralization, if this was really more school based autonomy, then more money would be invested in our students.  Even the state, with their broken school formula, acknowledged CMSD had to remain on the guarantee and did not cut funds to the district.  How can the CMSD turnaround a year later and cut funds to almost every school?  What CMSD is doing is OUTRAGEOUS.

The district has set a self-imposed deadline of February 28 for school based budgets and plans to be submitted for “central office” approval.

Please join the Cleveland Teachers Union at the next Board Meeting at 6:30 pm on February 25, at Buhrer K-8 School (1600 Buhrer Avenue).  We want to make sure that the Board of Education understands what is happening, as they are entrusted to insure that the levy dollars this community invested in the students of Cleveland find their way to the classrooms and students.  This community stood up for our schools by passing a levy to help our students.  Stand up with us once again to show the district that our students and our schools should not be broken by SBB.

In Union,

David