"For the first time there's a positive feeling we can tell where the money is being spent, and begin to decide where allocations make sense," said Juneau School Board President Mark Choate. "That's a huge difference."
Previously, the budget "rolled over" from year to year, and the board only considered a small amount of it. Choate said when he first started serving on the board, that amount was about $800,000.
"If times were tough you'd have to go in and cut, but there was no mechanism to go in and look at the overall budget," Choate said.
Now, there is - but it's unlikely that this year there will be any major changes to the budget, board members say.
Of the district's current $79 million draft operating budget, about $18.6 million is comprised of so called "discretionary" funds - money that the board can control and which it could choose to allocate differently.
Administrative Services director David Means said what constitutes discretionary funding is somewhat in the eye of the beholder; some people may think something is discretionary, while others may not. "Discretionary" programs include many things for which funding may fluctuate, but not be eliminated, such as librarians, counselors and student activities.
"Next year we will talk more significantly about it. The administration will begin making recommendations on ways we can consolidate, reallocate, maybe cut programs, maybe expand. Certainly the focus is going to be much more on having a mechanism so that when we're spending money we have a real good idea of why we're spending it and what the outcome we expect to see with that is, beyond the anecdotal 'I think the kids are happy,'" Choate said.
Budget Committee of the Whole Chairwoman Sally Saddler said this year's process, and input like information about different district departments and the district's new "strategic plan" are building blocks for future change.
"This is not all going to happen in one year," Saddler said. "All of us are frustrated by how much we would like to do and accomplish this year, but we can't go into all the depth we would like to this year. We're getting it all out onto the table. At the end of two years, we'll have a pretty amazing budget process that does get us to where we want to be."
The board has also consolidated the process itself. Last year's four budget advisory groups have been rolled into one Budget Committee of the Whole, with five participating community members.
"It makes us much more effective... but we don't have as much participation is the down side," said Saddler. "To date we've only had two, possibly three of the 14 schools (site councils) show up (at the four budget meetings so far)."
The 14-member committee consists of Juneau School Board members Mark Choate, Andi Story, Destiny Sargeant, Phyllis Carlson, JoAnne Bell-Graves, Ed Flanagan, and Sally Saddler, community members Laurie Berg, Rebecca Braun, Randy Hurtte, Suzanne Johnston, and Mary Marks and Juneau School District employee group representatives Mike Heiman of the Juneau Education Association and Bret Schmiege from Juneau Educational Support Staff.
The committee has two more meetings, on Feb. 17 and Feb. 23, before it sends the budget to the School Board, which will hold two hearings in March before sending the budget to the city.
Both February meetings are from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. in the Juneau-Douglas High School library.
The district expects about $79.2 million in revenue in the next fiscal year, which runs from July 1 to June 31. A little more than $1.7 million of that revenue is from stimulus funding that will end this year.
Administrative Services director David Means said this year's overall budget and revenues are about $3 million more than last year because of the three changing factors from the state - the cost of education in Juneau, the cost of educating intensive special education students and the base student allocation, which is the amount of money the district receives for each student. This year, that amount has increased by about $100, or 1.8 percent, to a total of $5,680 per student, Means said.
The amount of money the district can receive from the city has increased $575,000; the district's budget assumes the city will continue funding the district $800,000 beyond the legally mandated amount, or cap, for a total of about $26.2 million.
Of the projected operating fund revenues, 59 percent are provided by the state, 40 percent by the city and 1 percent are listed as "other."
The projected ending balance at the end of the next fiscal year is $800,000.
The draft budget is available at: www.juneauschools.org/district/administrative_services/our_budget (Click on draft FY 2011 budget)