Behind closed doors, a more-than $60 million budget is being decided by select staff of the Gardner Edgerton School District.
Unlike the city of Gardner, which hosts open, public workshops regarding the city’s approximately $10 million budget, or Johnson County, which has open meetings regarding its upcoming $815 million budget, USD 231’s budget is apparently being quietly determined by members of the Finance committee and the newly hired Finance Director, Jeremy McFadden. McFadden began work July 2.
Although most government entities are publicly involved in budget planning, a schedule of finance committee meetings was not available as of July 9. Technically, the meetings do not fall under the Kansas Open Meetings Act because the committee has been structured in a way to circumvent quorum requirements and are generally closed to the public.
We encourage Bill Gilhaus, superintendent, and school board members to promote transparency in the budget process, especially in light of the district’s recent bond rating reduction.
In March, USD 231 had the rating on its general obligation debt reduced from AA- to A+ due to the deterioration of the district’s cash reserves, and in 2011, Eric Hansen, former finance director, predicted a more than $570,000 cash shortfall, not including 2012 expenses or cost of the recent $72 million bond package.
With rumors swirling about the district’s finances, including alleged staff restructuring and teacher lay-offs, we don’t understand USD 231’s obsession with control and secrecy.
It’s the taxpayers’ money.
Gardner-Edgerton has one of the highest mill levies in the state; and that translates into high property taxes for patrons already suffering through the worst recession in memory.
Why not allow taxpayers to see the budget process?
The district’s only published budget dates include: presenting the proposed budget on Aug. 6, tentative budget publication date of Aug. 8, and a budget hearing on Aug. 20.
What about discussion leading up to the proposed budget?
Patrons have a right to be involved in the process.
We know it’s not always a pretty process – just view the Gardner City Council video of its most recent budget work session in which council members haggle it out.
We would much prefer to see the debate, to question it, post it to social media, or complaint/compliment it, than to have a bureaucratic door slammed in our face.
As always, our editorial page is open to school board members who wish to respond.