Operating Budgets Aren’t Boring

It’s official – the campaign season has gotten off to a roaring start!

The Ellicott City & Western Howard County Democratic Club kicked off the festivities with their Board of Education candidate forum on Tuesday night. It was Standing Room Only on the hottest day of the year so far. I’m glad I dressed accordingly!

Questions were submitted by attendees and members. They got to the heart of the matter relatively quickly. Dan Medinger, their fearless leader, conducted a lightning round at the beginning. That was great as we had to think quickly and commit ourselves. Unfortunately, I couldn’t see everybody at the end of the table, but I generally know what certain responses were.

One of the questions was whether candidates would reinstate the Citizens’ Operating Budget Review Committee. My answer is a resounding YES.

One incumbent mentioned why she answered No – because there are only six people on the committee.

Checking the minutes of a few meetings indicates that there were seven, eight and nine non-Board members in attendance. Board members had a designee that attended and that seems to have been three or four. Another complaint noted by the auditor said the Open Meetings act wasn’t followed.

I’d like to point out that there are seven members of the Board, so the difference of one seems irrelevant.

But isn’t ending the committee throwing the baby out with the bathwater?

When I am campaigning, people appreciate my accounting background as bringing some economic sense to a nearly $1 billion piece of the county budget. I have deep concerns about a few items:

  • The budget is not provided at school level. Take a look at Montgomery County.
  • Supposedly the budget is zero-based. But then it refers to using savings from a previous year.
  • Interim data shows the budget has been exceeded in an area. “Where will the money be taken from?” “Don’t worry, it’ll come from someplace, we’re not going to take it from this program and decrease services.” “So where will it come from?” “Don’t worry.” (This happened at yesterday’s (March 10, 2016) meeting.)
  • Spending on marketing and branding for the school system. On the campaign trail, that raises some eyebrows. “They’re really doing that?” I think we can all agree that social media is really useful for communicating information to people. Checking Twitter for the @hcpss_(specific school) does provide emergency info and updates on school activities. Great tool, but for publicizing awards that we paid for?
  • It’s getting close to $1 billion. Our money. Whether it comes from the county, the state or the federal government, it’s ours. We have the right to know.

2 thoughts on “Operating Budgets Aren’t Boring

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