Local control of Public Schools

Loss of Local Control
Texas Public Education

When did the idea of “local control” become so distasteful to the Legislative Body in Austin? White Oak ISD is putting the finishing touches on the budget for the 2009/2010 school year. This process is always difficult and very time consuming but this year it has also become “baffling” for lack of a better word. It is very difficult for a district that is struggling financially to complain about any kind of financial help made available from any source. At the risk of seeming ungrateful, I am complaining just a little. It appears that we are going to receive about $670,000.00 in Stimulus Funds. Approximately $80,000 must be spent in Title I grades K-5. Another $260,000.00 must be spent in compliance with IDEA (Special Education) guidelines that apply to approximately 15% of the student population. Both of these fund sources are strictly to be used to supplement not supplant existing programs within the district. In other words, buy something new instead of pay for what is working. The remaining $400,000.00 can be used to offset some expenses if they meet predetermined approved Federal Standards. One of those approved and required items is a $974.00 per year raise for eligible faculty members. The raise will be funded by Stimulus Funds for two years and then picked up by the local district since the increase is permanent but the Stimulus Funds are not.
All of that information is in place to set the stage for this question, Why can’t the local school district Board of Trustees and Administration decide what would be the best way to spend $670,000.00? White Oak ISD will adopt a deficit budget for 2009/2010 in the amount of $435,000.00. By applying the $670,000.00 Stimulus Funds as required by the Federal Standards, WOISD will still have a deficit budget of over $40,000.00. That is my concern, complaint, gripe and/or burden if you will. My math skills are good enough to acknowledge the fact that $40K in debt is better than $435K in debt. Those same skills tell me that applying $670K to a $435K deficit should solve the problem.
Why can’t the local district decide what to do with the money? If you allow local control of the money, somebody somewhere will put in a new turf field, new gym, new field house or even a sauna for the administrators, that’s why. In other words there will be situations where the money is used inappropriately. It is my belief that the overwhelming majority of Texas school districts will use the funds to better the education and learning environment of their students. I believe that there should be a level of accountability for the use of any taxpayer funds. Require us to provide a plan on how the money will be used and hold us accountable for following the plan. Just don’t tell me from thousands of miles away that the money is coming and you will use 40% of it on less than 15% of your students, 15% has to be a pay raise that I will have to maintain after the funds are gone and 12% can only be used in grades K-5. I believe in the public school system in Texas. I believe Local School Boards want to do right by the students they are charged with leading. I hope that some day there will be a shift in the negative stigma placed on the idea of Local Control to make the best decisions to solve Local Issues.