Most people know that the Arcadia Unified School District budget is distinct and separate from the City of Arcadia budget. But few probably know how the budgets compare size wise. In fact, while the city's general fund expenditures total approximately $65 million, the district budget tips the scales at nearly twice that amount at $117 million. If we look at that per school day (180 days), that budget amounts to about $650,000 every single day school is in session.
Of course, we as a community recognize the great importance of education and we prioritize funding with that importance in mind. If we are spending over a half million a day, there must be a high level of transparency and accountability with respect to district and Board of Education actions.
Just like City Council meetings, Board of Education meetings are very important for District business and operations, however, it is not very easy for people to know what is going on without attending the meeting. The Board typically meets every two weeks on the 2nd and 4th Tuesday of the month with meeting agendas posted on the website, but it can very difficult to find the minutes which can be buried in the different agenda reports. Also, considering we have many families who do not speak English, it may prove be almost impossible for them to understand what is happening at these meetings.
If we believe that parent and community involvement and engagement are important to a well run Board and District, we must do the as much as we can to include as many people as we can. Making the Board of Education meetings as open and transparent to everyone is a critical step to ensure that happens.
The benefit of transparency is having a community who is more knowledgeable and understanding about what problems lay ahead for the district. For example, I wager that most people do not realize that the district is now in a deficit budget (nearly $8 million in the current fiscal year) due to pension obligations.
2019-2020 Arcadia Unified School District Adopted Budget - Page 10
Although the district is in the same boat as many other localities, this is still something that should be better known. We need to pay closer attention to these matters so we can prepare for potentially bigger issues, especially if a recession is in the forecast.
Board meetings should be made as accessible and inclusive as possible
The Board of Education officially approves all major decisions made at the district level. As parents, as tax-payers, and as members of the community, those meetings should be accessible as possible for all. Few people are able to attend a weekday evening meeting every other week. If the City of Arcadia can live-stream City Council meetings, the district should live-stream the Board of Education meetings. Additionally, this video should have audio translation in other languages like Mandarin so as to reach and include a significant portion of the families. A webcam is actually already installed in the boardroom, so let's turn it on.
Board meeting minutes should be made easily available for viewing on the website
Board meeting minutes are considered the records of who voted for what action items, what contracts are approved, and many other important decisions. However, it is difficult for interested community members to find those minutes. These documents should be distinctly placed in one location on the website for easy viewing and download. See below for an easy example for how this can be done using the last six months of meeting minutes. Additionally, to help folks understand a bit more about the meetings, I will also be posting highlights on the News page so people can get a quick summary of what transpired at the meeting.
Hold an annual State of the District meeting
If we are proud of the successes happening within the district, there should be an annual State of the District gathering held to celebrate those successes. Teachers of the Year, Blue Ribbon designations, student awards, and other things to be recognized in one large celebration. Not only can this serve to highlight these great things, but it is a good way for parents and staff to meet and get to know each other across the district.
With the Board of Education overseeing a district budget of $117 million, there are very important decisions happening and we need to make sure that all people, no matter how busy they are or what language they prefer, are kept informed so they can participate and give their feedback on any concerns they may have (like the deficit budget).
Another concern that people might have is regarding recent test scores declines at Arcadia High School.
AUSD Board of Education Meeting Minutes