Avoiding the JETTY is usually more stressful than usual at budget times with too many obstacles that can get in the way plus accumulating sufficient data to have all of the answers for school committee members, city/town officials, the Board of Aldermen or Selectmen plus Town Meeting members in those communities. While all school leaders entering the meetings feel they have the data, so often we have those “pop up questions” that occur that seem to come out of space, needing time for checking to get the right answers.
Sometimes, the meetings can actually bring humor into finance discussions. At one of my last Finance Committee meetings of the City Council, I was asked, why the private school tuition rate had been increased or in deficit to which I began to answer with a member of the Council interrupting with the comment, “Mr. Chairman, why are we asking that question as we asked the same thing last year and you know what the Superintendent is going to say. We will hear him tell us the tuition rate has increased and the number of students has increased.” I responded, you are right.
The budget discussion continued with all going well until we got to the line item of “school lunch subsidy” when another member of the Council asked “why the subsidy projection in the budget is higher than the former year” when another Council member spoke out asking “why I was being asked that question, as he will give the same answer as last year that school lunch prices were not high enough to cover the costs and we feel all students should get lunch.” There were no further questions.
With those questions residential special education placements and school lunch reimbursements being the only significant questions, school budgets were passed as submitted. While I never felt it was needed, tradition meant the full School Committee were present (inside the rail) for City Council budget meetings, as well as my full administrative team. I realized that there was a very strong message given by their presence and support, not to mention questions that could have been raised and answered by our team as I called them.
At the end of the meeting, I thanked the City Council and told them to contact me if they had any further questions. While most folks left the Chambers, I stayed in the front row for the Police and Fire Chiefs to present their budgets as they had sat through an hour of the school budget, added to the fact, we were seen as a team in so many school based issues.
What I found amazing was the expression of gratitude of the chiefs for me staying, plus the admiration of the Council members, that I did that and would do it again. No size fits all but keeping away from the JETTY is important.
JETTY defined as a pier or structure of stones, piles or the like, projecting into the sea or other body of water to protect a harbor and deflect the current