Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Burning a Hole In Their Pocket

When is it okay to dip into your savings account to pay for something?  That is a basic budgeting question the Oshkosh School Board will revisit for what seems to be the one-thousandth time tonight.  Apparently, Superintendent Stan Mack II is upset that the Board, in putting together its list of approved budge cuts for next year, cut down on the number of administrators and their salaries--rather than some of the other items that were on the list put together by parents and school officials.  So, in a move reminiscent of Oshkosh School Boards past (if anyone complains about one of our decisions we must immediately reconsider it because no one should be unhappy in today's society), the issue is coming back for further consideration.

Here's what every accountant, economist (Friedman--not Keynsian) and household budget-maker would tell you: Using savings to pay for recurring costs is a good way to make sure you don't have any savings in the future.  Just this week, my wife used some of our savings to purchase a late-model used car because the one she was driving sustained a breakdown that will cost more to fix than the vehicle is worth.  We hadn't planned to buy another car at this time--but we did have money earmarked for that purpose--and she spent within the budget we had.  She is not, however, going to use our savings to buy gas for the vehicle.  That has to come out of our monthly budget.  And if she spends more on gas than she did with the old vehicle--then I guess I won't be enjoying lunch from Mickey D's as often--because I won't be dipping into savings for that either.

And that is why using reserve funds to make sure the Deans of Students position at the Oshkosh middle schools are full-time positions and not half-time makes NO sense (at least to people with an understanding of the budgeting process).  While Luther Olsen and a few others in Madison talk about increasing school aids in the next state budget, there is little guarantee that will come to pass.  So where will the money for full time Deans of Students (and recommended raises to make sure we can "retain" the current employees) come from in the budget after this one?  Savings again?  Welcome to the steep slope to a zero balance.

Supporters of the "reserve fund raid" argue this will only be a one-time thing--because Oshkosh voters will surely approve a referendum either this fall or next spring allowing the district to exceed the state-mandated revenue cap to cover such recurring costs.  Of course, things like extra administrative positions and pay raises won't be what referendum supporters actually put out there for voters to consider.  Instead, we will be told that if we fail to approve the question the Oshkosh School District will be "forced" to drop sports, close schools, let the other buildings rot and hire teachers that no other district on the face of the earth would consider hiring because we "don't pay enough".

Right now, it appears a majority of boardmembers have the common sense to stick with their original budget plan.  But should they falter tonight, let's make sure to remember how they will have chosen to spend our money when they coming asking for more down the road.

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