If you’re planning to cross the swamp at night without a flashlight, you don’t take chances by rushing in.
If you’re a school district crossing the budget divide without knowing how much state aid you’re going to get, you don’t take chances by spending like you did in the past.
So while it’s horrible for the teachers, staff and other school staff that local school boards are laying off so many workers in anticipation of severe state aid cuts, what the school boards are doing is the responsible course of action for the taxpayers.
In the wake of budget deficits related to the covid economic crisis, state officials have been unclear about exactly how much aid they’re willing to commit to school districts. That’s got school districts paranoid about spending money they might not have and prompting them to impose these massive layoffs.
The uncertainty over future finances is both preventable and non-preventable.
State leaders say the reason for the uncertainty is that they don’t know whether the federal government will reimburse the states to offset local tax losses from the crisis. So they don’t want to promise school districts a specific amount of aid.
But state officials do have flexibility when it comes to the state’s $177 billion spending plan that was passed in April.
They could go back into the budget and shift some money from other less vital programs and expenditures and allocate it to the schools.
We all know there’s millions of dollars of fat in there. Lawmakers and state bean counters should identify non-essential expenditures and shift them to the schools.
The final amount might not be what school districts were expecting, but any reduction in the proposed state aid cuts could preserve jobs.
If state officials wanted to reduce some of the uncertainty and give districts a more accurate blueprint to follow, they could do it.
The other factor, unfortunately, is the uncertainty related to how much help the state might get from Congress.
It’s possible Congress could pass some kind of relief package, although the chances of that happening before the November election is slim.
But if the U.S. Senate and/or the presidency changes hands, a Democratic Congress might be more open to bailing out the states, but that won’t happen until at least early next year.
All this puts school boards in a bind. Do they hold onto staff and hope for more money, or act like the severe budget cuts are going to happen as anticipated?
For now, with so much still up on the air, the best thing school boards can do for themselves and taxpayers is plan for the worst, and hope for the best.