Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Rising to the Challenge

Originally I had planned to discuss something different with you today, but that will have to wait until after spring break. Instead I'll start out by saying if you didn't have a chance to see the performance of our spring musical this past weekend, you really missed out on something quite spectacular. I was blown away by this performance and it was very apparent to me the kids on stage were having a blast seeing their hard work and perseverance pay off! Admittedly I was uncertain what to expect. The last time I checked, the cast and crew had missed in excess of 20 hours of rehearsal time. If I were the director (thankfully I wasn't) I think I would have been in quite a panic. As if to add insult to injury, Mr. Tecklenburg asked for special permission to hold rehearsals the last three Sunday's prior to the curtain rising. After taking a few days to think about his request, I relented and granted his petition. As asked for, he would practice from 3:00-5:00 p.m. and then again from 7:00 to 9:00 p.m.  This was not an easy request for me to grant because as a standard operating procedure we don't allow school activities on Sunday. Nonetheless, I granted this request and then had to turn around and cancel rehearsals on two of those Sunday's because once again, the weather wouldn't cooperate.

If you are interested in the math, think about this. Since the show went into production we cancelled school ten times, had three early dismissals, and started late three times. It you add it up, that is a lot of missed rehearsal! As this winter began to unravel, the administration approached Mr. Tecklenburg to inquire about the possibility of moving the show back a couple of weeks. Now, this is not at all an ideal scenario and would have created numerous scheduling obstacles and issues with royalty. Not insurmountable, but not at all ideal. Mr. Tecklenburg didn't think that was necessary. That was all before those two Sunday extended rehearsals were eliminated. So we asked the question a second time. Should we postpone? We had a very strong desire to ensure this was a positive experience for the cast, crew and audience. So we asked,  should we move the show? No. As they say in the business, 'The Show Must Go On'. The students would simply have to 'Rise Up!"

And Rise Up they did! As the curtain parted on opening night, I reminded myself to keep everything in perspective in light of the challenges faced by this cast and crew. When the music started playing, I wasn't surprised that they had opted to use a prerecorded soundtrack. After all--they just didn't have the time. Then I realized it wasn't prerecorded at all. The pit band was far upstage behind the set, and they sounded SO good. It actually did sound as though it was a professionally prerecorded soundtrack. So I sat up a little bit straighter and moved to the front of my chair. They next two hours were an absolute blast! You never would have guessed the rehearsal challenges these kids faced.

The show was expertly cast. Each of the students in the show did an amazing job! I would love to go on here about individual performances but won't out of fear of forgetting someone. But I will say this: as a former high school musical director I tend to pay a lot of attention to the details. The typical audience member will focus generally on the action, the dialogue, and the solo work. The bulk of which come from our main characters. They were fabulous for sure! But how about that ensemble? Again, when looking at the details, I observed an ensemble totally in character, believable, and having great fun! I was as enthralled with the citizens of Whoville as they worried about their fate, as I was with the clever antics and attitude of the Cat in the Hat.

The body of work that makes up the library of Dr. Seuss is rich with lessons about the value of friendship, celebrating the differences in one another, and treating others how you would want to be treated. Indeed through the telling of this story, Horton reminds us to celebrate those differences: 'A person's a person no matter how small', and the Cat in the Hat encourages JoJo to 'Let imagination be her guide'. Certainly this cast and crew did an outstanding job of sharing these lessons with their audience.

At the same time I am quite sure they learned a lesson or two of their own along the way. Among them I would count hard work, dedication, perseverance, and never giving up as key insights from this experience. Furthermore, the number of students who experienced their first ever high school musical certainly embraced Suess's teaching: don't be afraid to try new things!

It has been a remarkable school year for a lot of reasons. I am quite certain this musical will be an experience fondly remembered by these young people decades into the future. They will recall the great fun they had on stage and how they had to Rise to the Challenge when faced with the perilous winter of 2019!

Finally these young people, while learning the value of hard work in the face of adversity realized the old cliche in theater most certainly is true: "The Show Must Go On"! Bravo to the cast and crew of Seussical! You have made us all very proud!

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

What the Published Budget Tells You

As a practical matter, the proposed budget that is published in the newspaper is of very little use as a fiscal management tool for the school district. In reality, the only utility it serves is to meet the statutory requirements for annual budget publication in local taxing authorities. As a consumer of this information though, where should you focus? As a start, you probably should take a look at the tax rate included at the bottom of the publication. However as we discussed last week, viewed in isolation and without the proper context the tax rate alone tells us very little. But it does tell you something right? When analyzing the proposed budget it is first and foremost important to remember this is in fact a summary, not intended to provide anything further than a broad overview of the budget. 

The column labeled 'Budget 2020' is pretty self-explanatory since it is the summary of how we expect our revenues and expenditures to perform for the next fiscal year. Not to in any way be confused with the 'line item' budget, this is an overall spending plan and provides a road map for the upcoming fiscal year. The middle column, or 'Re-est. 2019' is exactly what it states, a re-estimate of the current fiscal year. Essentially this refines the budget that was certified from the prior fiscal year. In Hudson's case, and in our development of the overall budget this re-estimation is important because it serves as a launching point for the next fiscal year when the board sets their budget targets. The final column indicates what actually happened in the fiscal year that ended the prior June 30th. If I were a consumer of this information, my eye would be drawn to the far right, where I could view the average change over a three year period. Is there a percentage increase/decrease that seems strange? If so, why? The line that immediately jumps out to me is line 35A, which indicates a 56% increase over the last three years. Why is this? Well this is to account for the construction project that is set to begin with Phase III of the elementary renovation project. 

It may also be of use to understand what the lines of the budget summary consist of. Lines 1-3 should be rather self-explanatory. This is the revenue that will be generated from taxes. For Hudson, line 4 is rather important because this is where we account for the tuition we will receive from neighboring school districts for students attending under open enrollment and special education. Lines 10-13 account for state funding to the school district and makes up a pretty large portion of the overall revenue at 41%! Then accounting for just about 2.5% of the overall budget is our federal funds, included in lines 14-15. The majority of line 15 is revenue that is used to fund special education programs. You may be wondering about line 17, this accounts for the bond sale we closed on March 5th. This is the revenue that will be used to fund Phase III

On the expenses side of the budget, line 23 is the largest number of the budget and is where the salaries and benefits of most employees reside. The non instructional program described in line 32 is the food service, or hot lunch program. When you get to line 36, this is where you should notice that for fiscal year 2020, our overall spending plan is $13.3 million.

Each of these three columns is the sum total of seven funds that make up the overall budget. The general, or operating fund is the largest component of the overall budget and is used to fund the day to day operation of the school district. This fund next year has a spending plan of $8.7 million. The student activity fund is how we fund our activities and sports teams. Next year, we anticipate expenditures in this fund of $400,000. The management fund is used to pay for our property and casualty insurance, worker compensation insurance, and retirement benefits. We have budgeted $266,000 for this fund. The sales tax fund is where our construction costs are accounted, so for the next fiscal year, we are anticipating expenditures of $2.8 million. The Physical Plant and Equipment Levy fund for next year has estimated expenditures of $308,000. Debt service is where we will make our bond and lease payments for construction and computers. That is budgeted at $506,000, and finally the food service fund should have expenditures of roughly $335,000. We will hold a hearing on the budget at 6:00 p.m. on March 18th during the regular board meeting.