Hands down, the most important vote school trustees make each year is on the district’s budget. It determines what teachers are paid, what resources will be in the classroom, improvements in facilities, money for athletics, you name it.
So, something is wrong when trustees hold nine budget hearings over six months, then three of the four elected board leaders vote against the funding plan at the last minute.
That’s what happened this past week when a majority of Fort Worth school trustees said “yes” to the the $792.9 million general budget for next year, but board President Tobi Jackson, 1st Vice President T.A. Sims, and 2nd Vice President Ann Sutherland said “no.”
What’s confusing, and troubling, is the timeline on how this unfolded. And whether the three trustees cast “no” votes in exchange for support in being chosen as board officers.
On May 1, Sutherland sent an email to other trustees saying she had already decided not to vote for the budget. That was in the middle of hearings where trustees and school staff are supposed to be nailing down revenue and telling the superintendent and his staff if they want changes in his recommended spending plan. Wasn’t the opposition a little premature?
After all, Superintendent Kent Scribner reports to trustees. They’re his bosses. So if they want changes in the financial plan they can and should speak up.
In her email, obtained by Star-Telegram reporter Diane Smith, Sutherland said then she wouldn’t vote for the budget because it gave too much money to the central office while “shorting our schools, and she said “I will not support any candidate for board office who does.”
Fast forward three weeks to May 22, when trustees elected the current board officers including Sutherland. Then, to June 26. That’s when Sutherland, Jackson and Sims, voted against the budget and Sutherland told Diane Smith in another email she’d followed through on the “agreement” and so had two of the other board officers.
Sutherland may well be sincere in believing the budget priorities are wrong, but if that’s true why not use your muscle as an elected official and work to make changes during the hearing process? Isn’t this supposed to be about providing the best education possible for our children?
And what’s in it for Sutherland or any of the others to pledge support for board offices in exchange for votes to defeat the budget?
While Sutherland says she had a deal, Sims and Jackson both told this Editorial Board that’s not true.
Sims said he opposed the budget because it adds to the district’s deficit, which it does, though district officials have said the deficit will be reduced throughout the year.
Board president Jackson told us she voted against the budget “to make a statement” about the budget’s $37 million deficit.
“If we continue on that route, we’ll be bankrupt,” she said.
If Jackson believes that, why didn’t she work harder to pare down expenses now, instead waiting until another year passes?
Consider the consequences if the three “no” votes had been able to round up two more and kill the budget district staff worked on for months.
That would have put a teachers pay raise; money for learning centers; additional teachers for students with dyslexia; $12 million for school safety; and more in limbo.
We feel sure there’s a lot more to these strange votes than we know. And we fail to see how any of this helps children, who the trustees were elected to serve