On May 15, 16 & 17, Dr. Roark Horn, AEA 267 Chief Administrator, facilitated open forums with staff members regarding recent cuts to agency funding. (For those staff members who did not have an opportunity to attend, a recorded version is available for your convenience. A text version is also available.)
During the sessions, staff members posed important questions to better understand our budget situation. Those questions, along with the answers, are posted here for future reference.
Did the cut come out of our operational budget?
Yes. The cut will be taken from our general fund budget. The general fund budget is the budget where all of our operating expenses come from including salaries, benefits, resources, materials, mileage reimbursement, building expenses, etc.
What about the schools that are part of the instructional pool? Are they part of the instructional budget?
Although there will no longer be a special education instructional “pool” after June 30, 2012, funds generated by the instructional pool program were indeed part of the instructional budget. It’s important to note that these funds were “revenue neutral” in the sense that they were spent exclusively on the salaries of those individuals who served the pool school students. These funds could not be used for general fund expenditures.
Are the reserves the reason we got cut? Do other AEAs in the state have similar reserves to ours?
Reserve balances were a contributing factor. Although reserve balances fluctuate from AEA to AEA, the legislature looked at the total amount of reserves within the AEA system and targeted those funds.
Why doesn’t the legislature just tell us how much we can have in reserves?
Setting a specific number or percentage also comes with its share of issues but having a specified ‘no cut’ range would eliminate much of the problem. It can only be speculated that the legislature wants to maintain their flexibility in how they allocate the funding to the AEAs.
I’m a direct service support person and our workload is so high already—when will we get help?
The reduction in sectors from nine to four should help. This restructuring was done to help equalize assignments among other important reasons. Still, in a perfect world it would be nice to have lower caseloads. Unfortunately, our financial reality doesn’t support that at this time. Document instances where you feel you could be doing more for children if more resources were available and be prepared to share your story as part of our overall grassroots lobbying efforts in the future.
Did the ARRA money get mingled with our other funds? Did that make it look like our reserves were higher?
The American Recovery Reinvestment Act (ARRA) or “stimulus” funds were part of our general fund but did not end up as part of our reserves. They were used to maintain service levels as much as possible for two years but are no longer available as an option.
Are the cuts cumulative?
Each year the legislature must take action to either reinstate funds or continue with the prior year’s cut. They are cumulative in the sense that the money that was/is cut is not recoverable.
Can the legislature arbitrarily decide what the cut will be? Is there any type of formula?
Yes, and there is no formula for determining the amount that will be cut.
Do you think there will come a time when the legislature just combines all the AEAs?
That is very unlikely to happen. The AEAs were created in 1974 as a regional service delivery model that could remain responsive to local needs. Combining all AEAs into one system would defeat the original purpose.
What do you think the overall opinion is of the AEAs from the Governor and legislature’s perspective? Do they see the value in us?
Legislators and the Governor say they understand the work we do and appreciate it. They are willing to listen when we make every effort to explain our importance to the education system.
Do the schools understand what we do?
Local school district staff do understand our value but are challenged by the fact that, with limited funding to go around, they also must advocate for their work as well.
Where did our money go? Which group received it? My legislator says there is a lot of money in state government coffers.
It is impossible to pinpoint exactly where our funds were redirected although State reserves are a likely consideration. The State’s own reserves (so called the “rainy day” fund) are full. Legislators say that the State needs to hedge against the possibility of greatly reduced federal funding as the federal government seeks to find ways to deal with the nation’s debt situation.
Won’t they continue to cut us if we take it lying down?
It’s important to note that many, many efforts were made on behalf of the AEA system to prevent this from happening. At the advice of our lobbyists, we relied heavily on relationships with key legislators and the dissemination of fact vs. emotion-based information. Unfortunately, this strategy is no longer working. In June, a strategy session will be held with our lobbyists to build a new strategy that will likely include a heavier reliance on grassroots efforts and actual stories of students and others who are not receiving services due to cuts. Staff will be called upon to help gather this information.
Could you create a list of talking points related to budget to use with legislators?
Yes. A list of talking points is being developed and will be shared with staff over the next few months as part of our overall systems-level lobbying effort.
Can we start using our own personal social media sites to advocate for us and tell our story?
Please hold off on doing so until we have a united strategy. Social media sites are powerful but need to be used judiciously and strategically. If they are not, this kind of advocacy can be counter-productive.
What is administration doing to help with the cut?
Administration has taken the biggest reduction in FTE (Full Time Equivalency) over the past several years. At the time of the merger, the agency had 26.2 FTE administrators funded out of the operational budget. This year we are down to 16. That’s a 40% reduction in administrative staff. In addition, administrative staff took no take home salary increase this past year.
Please share the savings from remote work site, mileage and technology use.
In round figures, during the 2008-2009 school year combined costs for mileage and travel were about $1.05 million. In 2009-2010, combined costs were slightly higher than in 2008-2009. Last year, combined costs were less than $950,000 – about a 10% savings even though the mileage rate remained the same at 37 cents. It is unknown where we will finish this year, but projections are that combined costs will be even lower than last year, but not significantly.