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Jefferson County Public Schools Needs a Better Budget Process, Some Board Members Say


Jefferson County Public Schools' budget is its largest ever, and some school board members argue that the process for reaching future spending plans must be improved. Some board members say they need more information to fully examine and question the district’s proposed budgetbefore it comes to a vote. The stance echoes the recent state audit of the school district, which said: "Board members generally do not appear to have a depth of understanding to actively examine or question the budget effectively without significant reliance on JCPS staff.”Two board members—David Jones Jr. and Chris Brady—voted against the budget this week.Board member Diana Porter voted for the budget after nearly two-hours of discussion at Tuesday night's board meeting. But Porter also said “there needs to be a better process.” Cordelia Hardin, the school district’s chief financial officer, said while the current process may not be perfect, it is "good."She said developing the budget is a lengthy, seven-month process. It includes ample oversight from teachers, principals, school-based councils, private finance consultants and central office administrators—all of whom are available to answer board members’ questions, she said.“We certainly strive to make sure to cover everything that needs to be,” she said.  “We put in the time to make sure that the budget is accurate, we hope that it is understandable—but also understand, it is just not that easy, it is a complex process.”Hardin said most of the scrutiny of the budget comes before it even reaches the board, through work sessions and meetings.“It’s not like these ideas are just sprung on the board,” she said.  “They have time to review the budget.”A draft budget must be approved by the school board in January, Hardin said.  Then board members can issue formal opinions on the proposed budget in official work sessions beginning in early May.Porter said a timeline is needed that helps board members better facilitate discussion and examine the budget before deadlines approach.  When the Tuesday meeting happened, district officials had just three days left before the proposed budget was due to state education officials in Frankfort.  If the budget was not delivered by the deadline, the district risked losing vital state funding and board members could be removed from their seat.But board member Debbie Wesslund said a detailed timeline was set last year. She said the district shouldn't have reached a point where it had concerns about meeting the deadline.“This is not a surprise, this is a major board, we have deadlines,” she said.  “Everybody needs to relook at that and see when the deadlines are.”The $1.3 billion budget is the largest in district history.  It is set to take effect on July 1.Clarification: Board member Jones said via Twitter his vote against the budget stemmed from concerns for inadequate information and analysis. This story has been changed to correct that.

Jacob Ryan is an award-winning investigative reporter who joined LPM in 2014. Email Jacob at jryan@lpm.org.