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Thread: School Budget vs. Town Budget

  1. #16
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    Quote Originally Posted by Paul Grasso View Post
    That's what I've been trying to say, Jeff. What I learned tonight is that whatever savings over and above what was incorporated in the FY 09 budget have been spent elsewhere, leaving no expected surplus.
    It's too early to tell whether the estimated $50k in school budget savings above the $400k figure arrived at last spring has actually been spent. In a budget of over $30M, this amounts to less than 0.2%. Every year, the schools spend money on things that were not anticipated and elect not to spend money on things that were planned. Until we close out the year, we do not know what our surplus, if any, will be.

    But let's imagine that the $50k is spent. If so, it will be spent on an "educational good" to the benefit of the system.

    Quote Originally Posted by Paul Grasso View Post
    It's funny, the value of Weston's detailed budget was dismissed out of hand tonight ...
    I didn't "dismiss" the Weston budget, but I did spend considerable time understanding it, your "out of hand" comment notwithstanding. Rather, I pointed out that it contains detail that upon further inspection isn't illuminating. Pages and line items don't necessarily translate to useful information.

    Quote Originally Posted by Paul Grasso View Post
    ... and it didn't seem relevant to anyone tonight that the reason people want such detail or any kind of qualitative and quantitative coherence in the school finances is because the numbers put forth for the last year simply haven't been believable to many in the community.
    I don't agree. The schools discussed the FY09 budget in a number of public meetings, sent a Budget Book summarizing the requested budget to every household, and posted that Budget Book plus elaborating detail on the WPS web site. Does Weston's budget report contain more detail? Without a doubt. Does that mean that Wayland's budget report has no value. In my opinion, no.

    As to your lack of "believability", let me say this--with the exception of one teaching position about which I was in error, the savings number that we have been reporting has been consistent. I find your comment at last night's meeting about our reporting of the savings as being premature a bit odd, as you were one of several voices who has been pushing for that reporting. Moreover, that reporting is now more accurate than it might have been at this point by virtue of the fact that it received public scrutiny and led to feedback.

    Quote Originally Posted by Paul Grasso View Post
    Now there is another $350K to be cut. I was told that, of course, the core values and priorities explicit in the SC charter will be followed in identifying these cuts. I'll be watching.
    I don't know exactly how many "cut lists" I've been a part of in my tenure on the School Committee, but it must be approaching ten or so. Each time we've asked our administrators to put together such lists, they've done so by actively prioritizing the values and needs of the system. To suggest as you did last night that this might not be the case (your not having heard specific direction from the Committee to the Administration) is perhaps indicative of your being new to the process. There's nothing wrong with that, of course.

  2. #17
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    Default Last night's SC meeting

    The cavalier manner in which the idea of Wayland providing greater detail in its school budget was dismissed was very interesting.

    Why would you not want more detail?

    The message from Joy Buhler seemed to be that the amount of time it would take to provide a budgeted-to-actual budget made it a very low priority for her and that she might get around to it someday, but don’t hold your breath.

    Isn’t that her job? How does she function without that level of detail? How can we know what we’re spending?

    Is there no master list somewhere that has every last expenditure down to the level of a pencil?
    With the technology that exists today, we should be able to, in seconds, identify how much money was spent on math books at Happy Hollow, how much copy paper was used at Claypit, how many crayons were purchased for Loker, how many erasers the Middle School had to replace last year, how many test tubes were purchased for the science lab at the high school and how much we spent on Windex district-wide. Each of these should easily be compared to what was budgeted for these line items and what we spent in year’s past on these items.

    Jeff did what he always does – he scoured the Weston report to find one specific little part that he could zoom in on, isolate from all else and use it as “proof” that Weston 's budget provides "false detail", after which, Lou said "that information isn't going to lead us to any policy decisions".

    Maybe not, but it might lead to a sensible, well-thought out, streamlined budget.
    The fact that the 5 members of the School Committee see no value in that level of detail does nothing to address the fact that the community does.

    The message from the administration and the SC for years has been that there is “no fat” in their budget, yet there is truly no way they could know that because they can not or will not examine it closely enough to make that determination. Any suggestion that they might want to take a closer look to avoid such “oversights” as $9000 in ski lift tickets for the small number of students on the Wayland ski team is dismissed as if it’s simply not worth the bother.

    In any economy, it would be foolish and wasteful to not keep very close tabs on our budget. In this one, it is suicidal.

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    John Flaherty

    Any views expressed are NOT mine alone.
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  3. #18
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    Quote Originally Posted by John Flaherty View Post
    The cavalier manner in which the idea of Wayland providing greater detail in its school budget was dismissed was very interesting.

    Why would you not want more detail?
    You are incorrect. The new budget format that the School Committee saw for the first time last night, and supported, has greater detail than in past years.

    Quote Originally Posted by John Flaherty View Post
    The message from Joy Buhler seemed to be that the amount of time it would take to provide a budgeted-to-actual budget made it a very low priority for her and that she might get around to it someday, but don’t hold your breath.
    That's your interpretation, John, and nothing more. How can you possibly know what's on the plate of any of our administrators and how they need to prioritize their work?

    Quote Originally Posted by John Flaherty View Post
    Isn’t that her job? How does she function without that level of detail? How can we know what we’re spending?
    There is, of course, a big difference between having access to detail and being able to report it in a practical way, particularly during the transition to a new system under a faster-than-normal time frame.

    Quote Originally Posted by John Flaherty View Post
    Is there no master list somewhere that has every last expenditure down to the level of a pencil? With the technology that exists today, we should be able to, in seconds, identify how much money was spent on math books at Happy Hollow, how much copy paper was used at Claypit, how many crayons were purchased for Loker, how many erasers the Middle School had to replace last year, how many test tubes were purchased for the science lab at the high school and how much we spent on Windex district-wide. Each of these should easily be compared to what was budgeted for these line items and what we spent in year’s past on these items.
    If you were listening at our meeting last evening, you heard that the principals make their budget requests to the central office without providing the extreme level of detail that you suggest.

    How familiar are you with the accounting systems that Wayland uses? The "technology that exists today" isn't necessarily the technology that was chosen by the town (not the schools) for budgeting and accounting.

    At present, it's my impression that we don't have a system in place that lets us track each test tube. Nor would I see any value in that level of detail in any event. Rather, we have a layered system, just like any company, where individuals control budgets at different levels.

    Quote Originally Posted by John Flaherty View Post
    Jeff did what he always does – he scoured the Weston report to find one specific little part that he could zoom in on, isolate from all else and use it as “proof” that Weston 's budget provides "false detail", after which, Lou said "that information isn't going to lead us to any policy decisions".
    "What I always do?" That's a silly statement. I do many things, often differently. Sometimes I don't look at detail at all. Sometimes I do my own analysis. Sometimes I listen to and talk to people.

    As for Louis' "policy decisions" statement, I'm in full agreement. Do you know of a single $30M business whose board or CEO pays attention to cost at the level of pencils, test tubes, and Windex?

    Regarding the Weston budget, I didn't scour it for "specific little part," I looked at it in its entirety. It would have been a waste of everyone's time for me to read every instance of their "false detail" (my wording). But I could have done it. The examples that I cited were repeated over and over again. As I've said repeatedly, they do some things better than we have. Just not as much better as some have suggested.

    Quote Originally Posted by John Flaherty View Post
    Maybe not, but it might lead to a sensible, well-thought out, streamlined budget.
    The fact that the 5 members of the School Committee see no value in that level of detail does nothing to address the fact that the community does.
    Actually, as far as I can recall, I've only heard 5 members of the community ask for this level of detail (so, it's a tie! [grin]). I'm not sure if I'd be violating any unwritten rules to name them even though they've done so in public, so other than you, I won't. Now, I'm sure that there are others who would ask for this level of detail, but my bet is that if we did a fair survey, we'd find more people saying that our administrators should NOT be spending their time on these small details at the expense of the bigger picture.

    Quote Originally Posted by John Flaherty View Post
    The message from the administration and the SC for years has been that there is “no fat” in their budget, yet there is truly no way they could know that because they can not or will not examine it closely enough to make that determination. Any suggestion that they might want to take a closer look to avoid such “oversights” as $9000 in ski lift tickets for the small number of students on the Wayland ski team is dismissed as if it’s simply not worth the bother.
    "No fat" is of course not an absolute. I'm sure that there are times where someone wastes a sheet of paper, or loses a pencil, or buys something that doesn't prove out. I don't think I've use the "no fat" language--what I'll say is that we have a lean budget. The oversight of that budget is effective. Do you want a school board (or for that matter, a Superintendent) managing at the pencil level? If so, you've spoken volumes.

    Quote Originally Posted by John Flaherty View Post
    In any economy, it would be foolish and wasteful to not keep very close tabs on our budget. In this one, it is suicidal.
    "Suicidal?" And to think, you accuse me of "spin" ...

  4. #19
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    Default Continued School Budget vs. Town Budget issues...

    Quote Originally Posted by Jeff Dieffenbach View Post
    I apologize if I haven't been clear.
    Well I appreciate your continued efforts to try to help me understand.
    At this point, I also would have expected some surplus and from your previous analysis, you pointed to a $100K+ savings to the town... still Mike Diepietro wants the town to come up with $150K for their 30% share of the $500K state reimbursement shortfall. So wouldn't the town be in better shape here since the reconfig savings would have helped to offset that. I'm going to check with Mike about this curiosity.

    I wasn't able to attend the 12/18/08 SC meeting but a few things were reported to me concerning budgetary issues that I ask for some input on.

    1. The School Reconfiguration Savings "proported" in recent town meetings and forums was "in error" and "costs and expenses that resulted from the school reconfiguration" " have not yet" been fully identified or accounted for.

    -- If this is true then we really don't know if its $600+K or what the value really is. So shall we assume that we really don't know the actual savings or even have a good first order approximation.

    2. It was said that you did not accept the 70/30% School/Town split - from above you said that you accepted the 2/3rd's 1/3rd split (as an appoximation) and this is, for all practical purposes, 30/70%. Mike Diepietro's email clearly implies 70/30%. Why do you think Mike and the FinCom are incorrect about this and what do you really think the split is?

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    Quote Originally Posted by Jeff Dieffenbach View Post
    Do you want a school board (or for that matter, a Superintendent) managing at the pencil level?
    Of course not.
    But that's the beauty of having an interested, involved community, isn't it?
    There are some 12,000 residents of this town who could do that for him.

    The point is, whether you or the SC find it helpful to have such a breakdown is not the issue. You have a community who would like to take a closer look.
    Let them.

    There seems to be a dispute between Lou and some others as to whether or not the $9000 in ski lift tickets is something that tax payers continue to pay.
    Either way though, far more significant than whether we pay that is that the SC didn't know about it!
    We're not talking pencils.
    Even $9000 doesn't seem like that much in a $30 million dollar budget, but what is alarming is that the level of detail and oversight could allow $9000 to go unnoticed. And of course, it begs the question, what else has gone unnoticed?
    In a budget that includes thousands of items, it would only take about 55 items of a $9000 value to equal half a million dollars.

    Considering the economic times we are in, the cavalier attitude with which the SC dismissed the need for a Weston-like level of detail budget, is simply irresponsible.

    .
    John Flaherty

    Any views expressed are NOT mine alone.
    Wayland Transparency - Facts Without Spin
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    Quote Originally Posted by AlanJReiss View Post
    2. It was said that you did not accept the 70/30% School/Town split - from above you said that you accepted the 2/3rd's 1/3rd split (as an appoximation) and this is, for all practical purposes, 30/70%. Mike Diepietro's email clearly implies 70/30%. Why do you think Mike and the FinCom are incorrect about this and what do you really think the split is?
    Your other points/questions have either already been covered or don't pertain to the schools. Regarding the suggested 70%/30% split, it is not a case of my "not accepting it" or saying that it is "incorrect," but rather, wanting to understand its basis, as my own analysis suggests something on the order of 65%-67% schools.

    My analysis is somewhat dated (FY05), and may not be inclusive of everything--I'm simply interested in understanding how the Finance Committee arrived at the number. With a difference of as much as $25k, it's not an inconsequential question.

    This exchange points out the problem of not hearing things first-hand. You say, "It was said ..." In fact, what you related was not something I said. Also, in my opinion, you should say by whom or not raise the point at all--the "cloak of anonymity" makes the Town Crier discussion board largely a failure. Let's not drag this forum down as well.

    Of course, hearing things first-hand isn't enough to insure accuracy--at the public comment period at the beginning of our 12/18 meeting, a member of the public attributed to me remarks about the FY10 budget that were not in fact something I'd said either.

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    Default Continuation... and more ?

    Your point is noted on my quoting an *undisclosed* source as saying that you 'didn't accept the 70/30%'. In a perfect world one would name every source that provides you information and, you are correct, that it would have been nice for me to have provided that here. But no malice intended. The fact that I asked you about it in writing and used my own name doesn't bring this to the level of anonymous discussions on the Crier board.

    In offline conversations that we had recently you told me what you have said before which is you thought that a good estimate was 2/3rds and what I did in this thread was to provide a more concrete data point that it is more like 70/30% (as per Dipietro's email). Another undisclosed source (who I have reason to believe know what he/she is talking about said the number was more like 72/28%)... but I don't go with that because I don't have any official precision to back it up... just like you really don't have precision to back up 2/3rd's.

    I think we should agree on what our finance director has put into writing since the town needs $150K and the schools need $350K to make up for the state shortfall and these are real dollars that are now expected.

    Knowing how much numerical research you do, I'm confident that you will get to the precise number on your own and Dipietro may be a good starting point.

    I bumped into Sam Peper at the Apple store at the Natick Mall yesterday (before the snow started) and we talked about two things... (coincidence huh?)

    1. Slide 20 being either incorrect or misleading or not telling the full story and is in need of a retool. He seemed to agree and would talk to the FinCom about it.

    2. I asked him why the town still needs to come up with $150K on the shortfall when the reconfig has has saved the town a little over $100K out of the $600+K and he said he was aware of that statement but felt that the $100K number was not real and was being adjusted.... he wasn't more specific about that to me.

    So, see... I did mention Sam Peper directly as a source here and didn't do a Dick Cheney on you.

  8. #23
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    You’re right, I am new to this process as my children are just now entering public school age. I’m not, however, new to the budgeting and forecasting process as I have developed and analyzed them for over 20 years of my working career. Honestly, Jeff, what is so special about Wayland’s budgeting process compared to any other? Budgeting is budgeting. You identify cost drivers and components and quantify them. There is a period of review and revision. Nobody questions that, what is in question is the subjective nature of the prioritization. Calculating a budget is easy. Ensuring that it is consistent with long term strategy and plans isn’t. What prompted my comment at Thursday’s meeting was the discussion about the challenge from the FinCom due to state aid cuts. It was evident that the cuts were looming and the fact that they were officially delivered earlier that week is irrelevant. Why over 30 minutes was spent arguing about the precise percentage of what the schools should assume is left for the process veterans to answer, I guess. Is it 62% or 66%? Could it be 70%? What was obvious is that the amount needed to be cut was somewhere over $300K. Those of us who witnessed the chainsaw approach to cutting costs in last year’s exercise find this year’s anguish of identifying perhaps $25K more cuts a bit hollow.

    Regarding the subjective aspect of “the process,” you’ve been a vocal proponent of preserving the entire educational experience beyond simply academics. I agree with that in the ideally-resourced world, but in the one we live in today, trade-offs have to be made. It seems that we disagree on the basis of those trade-offs. You yourself said that the SC involves mostly a series of easy decisions and a few hard ones, with the reconfiguration decision falling into the hard category. What I still don’t understand about it, though, was its basis. The decision seems to have been reached solely on the fact that the academic experience wouldn’t be affected by larger class sizes and the cost savings justified it. Nowhere was the entire educational experience (i.e., the academic plus non-academic aspects of the school day) addressed, much less quantified. The difference — almost the opposite — has been argued to maintain the extra-curriculars in the MS and HS, however. What I saw in the reconfiguration decision was a coldly quantified justification of cuts to the elementary schools, and at the same time a qualified defense of the preservation of the status quo for the other students. Which is it? It cannot be stated that this year’s elementary school “product” is better than last year’s, or even the same. It’s worse. If the defense is that the elementary schools were at higher capacity levels in past years then couldn’t the same be said of adding modular classrooms to the high school? We all have to make do, right?

    What frustrated me the other night was that Dr. Burton summarized the state of the class sizes in the classical language sections and there was a good discussion around math class sizes as well. But instead of displaying “the process” to the public about whether some of these classes should be reduced as a response to the FinCom, there was needless discussion around the margins of the exact amount. Should classes with few students be combined or even eliminated? If so, how would that be justified compared to sports teams with 10 or fewer participants? It would have been very interesting to hear that discussion but it wasn’t there.

    Finally, to your point about the correct amount of savings from the reconfiguration: I hope you simply misunderstood my statement about prematurely stating the amount. The amount has been anything but consistent. It was $400K, then, unprompted by anyone, it was announced to be $673K, then after questions about that figure it was $613K, now it is back to $450K on a like accounting basis. I don’t understand your criticism of me for noting that, nor the implied credit you seem to be taking in that the number is “more accurate than it might have been at this point by virtue of...public scrutiny...” Either the savings are from the configuration or they aren’t. My comment the other night referred to stating publicly that the amount was $673K before you were sure of that! Numbers like that when presented in a public forum (and corrected more quietly) have a tendency to get embedded. Of course this was not the intention of doing so.

  9. #24
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    Quote Originally Posted by Paul Grasso View Post
    Why over 30 minutes was spent arguing about the precise percentage of what the schools should assume is left for the process veterans to answer, I guess.
    I think that "over 30 minutes" is an exaggeration--perhaps that was the time between the first and last mention?

    Quote Originally Posted by Paul Grasso View Post
    Nowhere [in the decision to reconfigure the elementary schools] was the entire educational experience (i.e., the academic plus non-academic aspects of the school day) addressed, much less quantified.
    To the first point, I disagree, and to the second, I would be interested to learn more about what you mean by "quantified." Perhaps you mean by allocation of budget dollar? For my part, I think that spending 2% of our budget on athletics errs if anything on the side of too little, not too much.

    Quote Originally Posted by Paul Grasso View Post
    The amount [of the reconfiguration cost savings] has been anything but consistent. It was $400K, then, unprompted by anyone, it was announced to be $673K, then after questions about that figure it was $613K, now it is back to $450K on a like accounting basis.
    Yes, we were in error on one position, first in its amount but more importantly in its inclusion. That we reported the savings with that error included falls primarily on my shoulders--I should have caught it. Once made, the only recourse was to correct it, and we did.

    In your recounting above, you distort the comparison--it was never a $273k gap, or even a $213k gap. We were quite clear in our discussions this fall to state that we were including municipal budget savings above and beyond the $400k amount that was reported last spring. The suggestion by a Committee member that we make the accounting more explicit was a good one--I hope that you agree.

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    It was 30 minutes, believe me. I looked at the clock often during that meeting. Of course, commenting about 30 minutes or 23 or 37 completely glosses over the main point I'm making: that there was much discussion about amount and whether it should have been anticipated and none on how the shortfall should be addressed by the administration. Dr. Burton even asked for that guidance directly ("it's your call").

    In terms of "quantifying" the full effect of the reconfiguration decision, I meant the aspects of the elementary 'product' that are not measured by class size guidelines. What was the value of the non-academic effect on the elementary student? I couldn't care less about the 2% amount of athletics, I'm not questioning that amount in a vacuum (at this point this 2% is a kind of a straw man on both sides of the debate). I'm just asking why the extra-curricular opportunity cost/benefit (to the holistic student experience) is used in some cases and not others. The real result of the reconfiguration was to diminish the elementary experience to maintain the MS and HS extra-curricular programs, or administrative costs, or something else. The use of the "whole student experience" argument should be applied equally and consistently to all students, K-12. This is where I question the transparency of "the process."

    I'm in full agreement about making the accounting of school costs explicit. I commend that school committee member for responding to the repeated pleas from the public.

    I wish you and your family a safe and happy holiday. I'm sure we'll be talking again next year.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Paul Grasso View Post
    I'm just asking why the extra-curricular opportunity cost/benefit (to the holistic student experience) is used in some cases and not others. ... The use of the "whole student experience" argument should be applied equally and consistently to all students, K-12. This is where I question the transparency of "the process."
    For what it's worth, I don't agree with your characterization above.

    Quote Originally Posted by Paul Grasso View Post
    I'm in full agreement about making the accounting of school costs explicit. I commend that school committee member for responding to the repeated pleas from the public.
    For the record, I had not heard even a single "plea" from the public to separate out the elementary school reconfiguration cost savings into two sub-totals, one on the school side of the budget and the other on the municipal side (as currently reported), per the suggestion of said Committee member.

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    Or maybe this year...

    For what it's worth, I don't agree with your characterization above.
    No surprise there. Is the elementary school experience this year better than last? Is it the same? Was that taken into account when the decision was made?


    For the record, I had not heard even a single "plea" from the public to separate out the elementary school reconfiguration cost savings into two sub-totals, one on the school side of the budget and the other on the municipal side (as currently reported), per the suggestion of said Committee member.
    Just say yourself, Jeff. The pleas from the public were for something, anything to better define the alleged savings from this. So thank you, thank you for doing this. What exactly do you want me to say? I specifically went into the budget books and staff deployment reports to challenge why these items were incorporated into the budget at all and whether a full 3-school model in FY 09 would have been as expensive as budgeted. For the record, I don't think those questions have been answered completely.

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    Jeff wrote: For the record, I had not heard even a single "plea" from the public to separate out the elementary school reconfiguration cost savings into two sub-totals, one on the school side of the budget and the other on the municipal side (as currently reported), per the suggestion of said Committee member.

    Quote Originally Posted by Paul Grasso View Post
    Just say yourself, Jeff. The pleas from the public were for something, anything to better define the alleged savings from this. So thank you, thank you for doing this. What exactly do you want me to say? I specifically went into the budget books and staff deployment reports to challenge why these items were incorporated into the budget at all and whether a full 3-school model in FY 09 would have been as expensive as budgeted. For the record, I don't think those questions have been answered completely.
    We're obviously disconnecting again. I was writing only about separating out the school expenses within the school and municipal budgets, as suggested by a Committee member other than myself.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Paul Grasso View Post
    No surprise there. Is the elementary school experience this year better than last? Is it the same? Was that taken into account when the decision was made?
    Paul- the reconfig did not claim to "better" last years elementary school experience. I believe it was an option which attempted to make the best of many less better alternatives. A more meaningful comparison might be to compare this years experience with that of a 3 school ES model with different cuts.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Jeff Dieffenbach View Post
    Jeff wrote: For the record, I had not heard even a single "plea" from the public to separate out the elementary school reconfiguration cost savings into two sub-totals, one on the school side of the budget and the other on the municipal side (as currently reported), per the suggestion of said Committee member.



    We're obviously disconnecting again. I was writing only about separating out the school expenses within the school and municipal budgets, as suggested by a Committee member other than myself.
    My apologies. I must have been distracted by the noise of questioning how many minutes were spent talking about something in the last meeting and who was responsible for further defining the savings. It is good that these costs were isolated, but perhaps the reason there was no direct "plea" to separate the costs is that the public did not know enough to ask such a question.

    My larger question still stands: the schools are faced with making a cut to the budget in relative size to the reconfiguration savings. That's either a big enough number that requires a scope change to the curricular/extra-curricular program, or small enough that it can be managed in the margins. I'm just curious about how it will be assessed and if that method is consistent with the criteria used at this time last year.

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