Zero Based Budget: Intentional Misdirection and Chaos

While teachers and parents are struggling to live within their means and the 2014-2015 budget for Gilbert Public Schools, some of the recent revelations about the budget and expenditures certainly raise eyebrows and provoke questions about GPS priorities.

We’ve heard that some schools lack soap in the restrooms. Teachers have been bringing bars of soap for restrooms [least expensive fix], in addition to asking parents for many bottles of hand sanitizer for the classroom. Where are all these parent-contributions of supplies stored in classrooms jam-packed with bigger classes this year? What in the world is going on in GPS?

Don’t forget about all the reams of paper that have been demanded from parents. Some candidates for school board seats endorsed the demands for reams of paper … like it’s a good thing. What a way to run a school district! We noticed that although Christina Kishimoto was asked to report to the board with more information about Accelerated Reader being cut from the budget, the topic wasn’t broached at the next board meeting. Delay, delay, ignore, ignore. Everything old is new again in Gilbert Public Schools. Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.

There’s a certain segment of the community that says all the money woes are the fault of the board, and they really, really hope busy parents will believe this meme. Folks who understand the operations of a school district know the board approves a budget and the superintendent decides how the money will be spent.

In the case of the vaunted Zero Based Budget, what actually happened was the superintendent gathered recommendations from various committees, and then made changes to suit her preferences for spending this year. We haven’t found where any of the recent superintendents or their minions reported to the board exactly how the GPS operating budget would be spent, although that was supposed to be step 3 in the ZBB process. The complaints about the budget are increasing; community members who worked through the process are none too pleased that committee recommendations were ignored in many cases. Remember, the dudes who led the ZBB process had no skin in the game … none of them are employed in GPS, and few other staffers remain. Yeah, we know they’re smirking.

Here’s a MAJOR complaint: the budget summary shows 98 administrators,  an increase from 75 administrators last year, for a total increase of 23 administrators. Thank you, birdies!


The board approved the overall budget, but apparently, final recommendations and essential details were never communicated … to the board or to the community. Some of the famous “ZBB binders” to which the nattering nabobs of negativism refer are online. However, whoever posted the notebooks doesn’t know if they’re the most recent versions from the ZBB committees. Who knows what the board was given to approve at the last possible moment.

If you comb through the binders and other documents, you find some asterisks showing that the superintendent changed some allocations. It’s smoke and mirrors time again! The ZBB binders show that Administrative Services was recommended to be funded at Level 3, but there’s one of those asterisks beside the number, which jumped to Level 8  and $484,334.00. This was 102% of the previous funding, including $5,000.00 for professional development, $5,000.00 for student travel, $10,000.00 increase in Services and Supplies (for a total of $121,878.00) and $19,000.00 for rentals. The only thing that’s really clear about all this is that Admin Services got a bigger budget than before.

On the other hand, Safety and Security was recommended to be funded at Level 5, but there’s an asterisk there. Sure enough, funding was cut to Level 2, 85% of the previous budget, which cut Night Security and Dispatch, Campus Security and Crossing Guards, along with cutting stipends, pay for additional work and services and supplies. What could possibly go wrong?

Vandalism at Gilbert High School is what went wrong … in a hurry. With night security cut, it didn’t take long. Estimates for repairs to GHS range from manageable to extraordinary, according to our birdies. Penny-wise and pound-foolish, right? What could possibly go wrong with cutting crossing guards, Dr. K?

Here’s how the smoke and mirrors works in determining the amount of dollars spent *in the classroom* as opposed to administrative costs.   Most people think the administrative services include the administrators, but that’s just not true. The superintendents, directors, coordinators, principals of all descriptions are considered *in the classroom* expenses, according to the linked document. Positions listed as 2100 and 2200 are considered *classroom.* Administrative positions are support staff. Most lay people (non-educrats) would consider most of employees under student support services as administration. In GPS, where’s there’s smoke, there’s a mirror nearby, we’ve discovered.

Remember during the run-up to the vote on the override in 2013 that statements were made (and continue to be asserted to this day) that GPS has a low administration percentage? Presentations included statements that “all of district offices” were included in the dollar amount and eliminating “all” positions would not add up to the amount necessary to recoup lost money.

Check out the linked presentation at the 29:45 mark to learn about Administrative Costs according to the Auditor General’s report.  Funny how the presentation blurs the lines between instruction and what most people would consider to be administration. $18 Million. Higher paid administrators $2.4 Million at the district level. $5.1 Million at school level. Bottom line: $9.9 Million for all administrators. Administrative services as a whole are $18 Million. GPS spent $496.00 per student on administration. You’re supposed to *trust* these numbers <snort>.

With so much hocus-pocus going on, it’s hard to figure out what the real budget numbers are. That’s one reason the Governing Board mandated Zero-Based Budgeting for the 2014-2015 school year. What actually happened was NOT ZBB. Are you surprised?

Zero-based budgeting requires the budget request be re-evaluated thoroughly, starting from the zero-base. This process is independent of whether the total budget or specific line items are increasing or decreasing.

Zero-based budgeting starts from a “zero base” and every function within an organization is analyzed for its needs and costs. Budgets are then built around what is needed for the upcoming period, regardless of whether the budget is higher or lower than the previous one.

ZBB allows top-level strategic goals to be implemented into the budgeting process by tying them to specific functional areas of the organization, where costs can be first grouped, then measured against previous results and current expectations.

The superintendents and staff hated the idea of ZBB and implemented something quite different. They wasted a lot of time creating those ZBB binders, which created levels based on historical expenditures. We haven’t found where anyone identified total resources and essential functions and married them for efficiency.  Some of the people assigned to the committees were carefully selected to arrive at exactly what the superintendents wanted in the first place.

[Waving hi to Susan Keuter, who helped give Admin Services more money and to Diane Drazinski, who helped cut AR.]

Even with all the groundwork, things didn’t go exactly according to plan. That’s why the asterisks and adjustments were needed. That’s probably why the final ZBB binders are missing in action. Smoke and Mirrors. Again.

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