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Taxpayers to get no say on $285M school budget


Last year the Indian River County School District didn’t post its $285 million budget to the district website until 24 hours before the one and only public hearing on the massive spending plan, and the same non-transparent budget process is scheduled for this year – meaning county taxpayers who put up $141 million of the total will get no say in how it is spent.

Even when the budget finally was posted last year, it had huge holes in it, making it an inaccurate picture of district spending.

The $10 million in federal funding for exceptional student education, migrant workers, English language learners, parental engagement and other programs wasn’t explained or included.

The .60 millage voters approved for teacher positions, technology and vocational training, totaling nearly $10 million, was also left out of the budget.

How the District’s $7 million credit card that is used to pay for – and sometimes obscure – certain expenses figures into the budget is a mystery as well.

Given the faulty budget review process, it’s hard to know what else was missing.

The budget processes of most government entities include a parade of department heads giving presentations, which allows the public to understand costs necessary to carry out a public service. The departmental budgets are presented a series of public hearings, the interaction resulting in lively debate, clarification of values, wants and needs.

Not the school district.

Four preliminary meetings are scheduled in the current budget process; none allows public comment. The first two are on “budget impactors.”

Last year, these two presentations were exactly the same and explicated what the state does, which is a given and requires no board oversight or discussion.

The first 2017-18 “budget impactors” presentation was last week and it was a repeat of last year’s empty performance.

After two “budget impactors” meetings, the next two meetings are “budget priorities and recommendations.” Last year, these consisted of Superintendent Mark Rendell’s lists of cuts, but the School Board had no budget in hand or any other contextual framework to understand the impact of the cuts.

Board members Charles Searcy and Shawn Frost complained about the process and asked for a more detailed presentation, and Frost voted against approving the budget, but their objections have not changed the process, which excludes the public from oversight or participation in how hundreds of millions in taxpayer money is spent.

"Public participation in the budget process is limited, or non-existent,” said Carter S. D. Taylor, President, Executive Committee, Indian River Neighborhood Association. “Operating with so little public oversight, the administrative bureaucracy operates on auto-pilot and has become unaccustomed to . . . public and media scrutiny.”