Buses, computers, supplies, and other miscellany from the Budget & Finance Subcommittee

I managed to catch pieces and parts of the School Committee’s Budget & Finance Subcommittee meeting this morning.

The main agenda item for the meeting was an update on the FY211 budget, and GPS Business Manager Andy Paquette was at the meeting to review the report he had generated and answer the committee members’ questions.

One of the first questions that came up was around transportation costs. Based on the discussion that ensued, my understanding is that GPS is still paying Kuzmeskus (the district’s yellow bus provider) even though none those buses have been used since early spring. Apparently the Kuzmeskus buses that are assigned to Greenfield are not being used for anything else, and while we are in negotiations for a COVID discount on the contract, we will still be paying some amount for having them sit idle.

There was a brief sidebar here about whether the School Committee should issue an official announcement to families in the district about no return to in-person learning (due to costs of PPE and other protective measures) until after the December break at the earliest. The exception would be the relatively small number of students who will be part of Phase 2 of the re-opening plan. Unfortunately, I had to step away2 and missed the conclusion of this topic.

Two other questions to Paquette from committee members led to some interesting—at least for me, anyway—discussions.

Member Wall had some questions about the budget line items for supplies; specifically she wondered why those budgets were held at the individual school level, rather than being centralized for the whole district. The answer is that it makes required end-of-year reporting to the state easier to have them separated out at the school level, and also means the individual schools/principals are better able to manage their budgets and to be evaluated on how they meet those budgets.

There was an additional question from Member Wall, this one regarding technology purchases and why large bulk purchases of computers tend to be requested against the city’s Capital Improvement budget, always to be denied by the city. A somewhat wide-ranging discussion followed.

It seems like what is happening is that the question of which part of the budget big-ticket purchases for the School Department should go in has been serving as a proxy for the more charged issue about the real cost of education. If the goal is to keep the School budget from looking too large—which is what the goal seems to have been in recent years—then it totally makes sense to want to shift big costs like computers into a different budget. And to be fair, there is a good argument to be made that bulk technology purchases should be considered capital investments that will depreciate over time.

However, if as Member Eckstrom suggested at this meeting, we agree that stuff like computers are, in fact, necessary for education, then we should keep it in the School budget and then work with the city and the community to help them understand what it really costs to educate kids in Greenfield.

Not surprisingly, this meeting did not resolve that issue, and I would expect it to keep cropping up in the weeks and months ahead.

Finally, there may be some movement this coming week on transition planning for the Superintendent.3 One possibility is the hiring of an assistant Superintendent, although the discussion at this meeting gave me the impression (perhaps incorrect) that there is not necessarily agreement across both the School Committee and the Superintendent on that path.

  1. “FY” = fiscal year
  2. I had to go help one of my kids through his remote learning assignment.
  3. Current Superintendent Jordana Harper has announced her resignation, effective at the end of the current school year.