The Howard County Superintendent’s proposed operating budget for FY 2016 is $780.8M. As the operating budget increases; however, the opportunity for citizen input decreases. Feb 3 was the lone public hearing on this budget where citizens could provide up to three minutes of oral testimony. Three minutes for $780,800,000 hardly seems sufficient. But it wasn’t always this way.
In previous years, the Howard County Board of Education used an Operating Budget Review Committee (OBRC) to comb through the Superintendent’s proposed operating budget. The OBRC was made up of Board appointed citizens who had an interest in the budget, and agreed to delve into details, review information, ask questions, gather citizen feedback, and make recommendations to the Board. It was an important check and balance between the Board and the Superintendent, and provided a form of transparency about how our tax dollars were being spent. After all, a large percentage of our local tax dollars are spent here.
In Sep 2014, the Board of Education voted to suspend the OBRC. The explanation given was that it was difficult to find citizens to fill the positions, and that Superintendent Foose and some Board members questioned the value of the committee format. Thus, the options for citizen input on the budget were reduced to testimony at one public hearing.
Last year’s co-chairs of the OBRC – Howard County Education Association president Paul Lemle and PTA Council of Howard County president Christina Delmont-Small – believe the OBRC provides an important review of the proposed operating budget. They are chairing a citizens’ OBRC, without a Board charter, with two goals.
1. To lead a group of concerned citizen volunteers to provide information to the Board of Ed about the proposed Operating Budget to help make informed decisions, and
2. To accept input from and provide information to any Howard County stakeholder, in the name of transparency and accountability.
This committee had its first meeting on January 28, 2015, and plans to meet weekly with information provided on social media.
What are your thoughts on the HCPSS budget process? Does it limit input and transparency? Will this informal OBRC be able to effect change? Should the OBRC be reinstituted as a formal committee next year?