As we prepare to make difficult decisions, we remind you of the difficult decision last spring. That decision was to take a vote of no confidence in the district’s chief financial officer, Sandy Rotella. You did not take the decision lightly. Many of you say you cannot remember ever having taken that kind of a vote in SKEA history.
But you listened to the facts and you voted your conscience. Your SKEA officers and bargaining team will not ever ask you to take any kind of vote unless you have the facts and you have the time to discuss debate and vote the way you choose to vote after hearing all of the facts.
The good news is that our new superintendent took your action seriously. She listened and she acted upon your action. Michelle Reid hired two veteran independent financial consultants, both experienced in school district budgeting, to review the budget and to make suggestions. Both Debra Aungst and Bob Boesche shared the results of their report at the recent board meeting at SKHS – one in person and one who was on the phone available for questions. SKEA believes the findings in the report will help SKSD remain upon sound financial footing rather than continue in the downward spiral that was occurring. However, we also believe that the new district revenue not addressed in the budget review – new state funding, levy money and savings from the layoff – a total more than $11 million – is enough to address our class size concerns and other issues at the bargaining table.
For those who may need a little review about where we are as we continue bargaining, a blast from the not so recent past. These are excerpts from T Michael Birch’s statement to SKEA membership last spring before we took a vote of no confidence.
On April 12th of this year, SKEA was notified that South Kitsap School District chose to eliminate 26.5 FTE positions. Two hours later, the email notifying staff of this plan was sent out by the superintendent. SKEA leadership and members were shocked. Our contract specifically states that we will have a chance to audit the budget and have input into any decisions to RIF.
The shock did not come from the fact that they did not inform us earlier although that would have been nice. The shock came from the fact that the district just discovered that there was a budget problem. In the past, discussions started taking place in December or January. These facts are what gave us first concern about SKSD’s Chief Financial Officer, Sandy Rotella.
Part of a CFO’s job is to monitor the budget. If there are problems, they need to be aware of what is happening with the budget so that they can adjust expenditures and start having conversations about the future. This did not happen under Sandy Rotella’s watch. These conversations did not start taking place until April.
On Monday, April 14, SKEA’s bargaining team sat down with the school district’s bargaining team for our second bargaining session. Our team had adjusted our initial pay proposal to more closely match the pay raise for the superintendent’s position. This would equal a 6.9 perecent increase for teachers. Sandy Rotella started saying that this was a 65 percent pay increase. It took district attorney nearly 30 minutes to explain to her that our percentages were correct. This raised our second concern about her ability to perform the duties of Chief Financial Officer.
We specifically set an agenda for the May 9 bargaining session to include a discussion about the budget. On May 8, the night before this meeting, we asked the school board and our former superintendent, “What is the projected budget shortfall?” They said that it was $3 million. We pointed out that they were cutting $4.7 million in teachers alone. They did not really have an answer as to why there were more cuts. Sandy Rotella was at this board meeting and did not speak to the budget.
The next day, May 9, when Sandy Rotella came into the bargaining meeting, she informed us that she didn’t really plan anything, but she could show us a power point, or we could ask questions if we want. Every person at the table, including the school district’s bargaining team, looked surprised that she was not more prepared. We started by asking, “What is the projected budget shortfall?” She stated that it was $3 million dollars. When we pointed out that it was $4.7 million in cuts to teachers alone, she started to talk about sequester. The effect of sequester on our school district is less than $300,000. She also said that we don’t know how much is coming in from the state, and thus far they refused to use even the safest number from the Senate in our added revenue.
I pointed out that the district chose to make cuts based on a number, and asked what that number is. She could not answer. I told her that to find a budget shortfall, you take your current programs and staffing and figure what that will cost for next year. Then you take what you will get for funding next year and subtract it from your projected costs and you will get the projected budget shortfall. I then asked if she could give me that number. She said, “I don’t know that number off the top of my head.” The entire bargaining table, including the school district’s bargaining team, was shocked. With 61.3 FTE in cuts to certificated teachers resulting in people losing their livelihood and our students having increased class sizes, it was shocking that they didn’t know how much money they are projecting they need to save!
I told the district that they are asking us to take their word that there is a money problem, but we could not even get a straight answer from their CFO. The next day, May 10, Sandy Rotella came in with a sheet showing a $4.6 million dollar shortfall. This was up from the $3 million dollars reported at the May 8 school board meeting. This sheet had the school district putting approximately $1.4 million into savings and another $1 million dollars into capital projects. It is also important to note that this budget shortfall did not include any money coming in from the state. I tried to ask more specific questions regarding the activity code in which instructional specialist were budgeted, and she told me they were probably budgeted for but did not know which code.
The South Kitsap School District has traditionally been very well run financially. Although we had disagreements about how money should be spent, we always pointed out that this district was very responsible with the money. In the last 18 months, something changed. There has been a significant change in spending patterns. There seem to be no budget controls. These are the concerns we have regarding Sandy Rotella. Although we have been extremely frustrated in trying to get this straightened out, the idea to have a no confidence vote did not come from SKEA leadership. It came from the members at our general membership meeting on May 22. Our rep council unanimously supported it after hearing the story last Tuesday, May 28. I ask you to vote your conscience.
T. Michael Burch is a math teacher at John Sedgwick Jr. High and has served on the Executive Committee for several years as the Junior High Rep. Last spring he was elected by the membership to be the SKEA Vice-President for the 2013-14 school year. He is also a member of the Bargaining Team.