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Community Conversation: School Finances

Community Conversation: School Finances

The Lakota Board of Education recently held a Community Conversation about school finances. Now in its tenth year, the Board’s listening program is designed as a way to hear from stakeholders on a variety of topics. The Board also invited Adam Zink, Lakota’s treasurer and chief financial officer, to share a brief presentation with attendees about school finances.

Jeff Stec, the program’s facilitator, began the conversation by asking the Board members what they would like to get out of the conversation. “I think school finance is often misunderstood,” said board member Julie Shaffer. “That’s actually how I got involved with the Board. I’m appreciative of Adam for being here to help educate our community.”

Board member Kelley Casper echoed Shaffer, appreciating that Zink is able to make the complex topic of school finance more easily understood for the community. Board President Lynda O’Connor also noted that in Lakota, finance is not just its own department. “It touches everything in our district,” she said.

Important Conversation

Stec also asked the participants why it was important for them to attend the discussion:

  • The district is important to me and my family. I like to be engaged and help. I want to be knowledgeable about our district.
  • I’ve gotten more involved over the years. I see a lot of misinformation out there and want to be knowledgeable.
  • I’ve been in the district for a while - since we were trying to get the levy passed years ago and failed. I’m a parent, a taxpayer, an employee - I access a lot of services and see this from many different angles.
  • I wanted to challenge myself to learn more about finances. I’ve been paying closer attention to things that are going on in the district. This is one area I'm not very well versed in and want to be more educated when I’m out and about, speaking to neighbors and community members. I’ve seen the rebuilding since the days when we couldn’t pass a levy. I’d also like to know more about the process of funding the Master Facilities Plan.
  • I like data - understanding data and the context. With the facilities plan, I want to be educated so I can have conversations about it, knowing the data behind the decisions the district is making…understanding the benefits provided by the district to help understand the funding behind it.

Understanding School Finances

Zink gave an overview presentation about Lakota’s finances, including how the district is funded and where the money is spent. Following the presentation, Stec asked the participants to share what the presentation meant to them.

  • It makes me really glad that there are people who really understand school finances. It’s very complicated and this helped to parcel out school funding for me to better understand.
  • Clarity is really important. Having the right information is important so we can help direct people to it. 
  • I’m a visual person so something that shows an overview but also directs to more information.
  • I think this stuff is complicated and I’ve seen this type of presentation several times. I pick something new up every time. We need to break down the information and make it simpler.
  • Unfortunately, it seems like the district is being forced to play defense when you’re very proactive about sharing information.
  • I hear about the spending, such as wraparound services, but I don’t see it at the building level - the daily weight that is being carried by each individual cannot be explained. I see the $100 million in the bank and I wonder why some of our needs can’t be funded. 
  • Finding this type of information on a phone should be easier than it is.

Final Thoughts

As the evening came to a close, Stec asked the attendees to share any final thoughts they would like the Board to know.

  • The mission follows the money. The work that our finance department does is so important, so thank you for all that you do.
  • Fiscally, why are we here? We are here to serve and educate children. Everything should be focused on that objective. The fiscal responsibility is to our children.
  • Knowledge is power. I feel like I learned a lot tonight.
  • It’s not a business. It’s for kids. If there are clarifications that need to be made to how the budget ties into the mission, we need to explain it. Here’s our mission and here’s what you get for “x” amount.

“I appreciate all of the different perspectives,” said Casper at the end of the evening. “It’s a balancing act as to how we take all of the viewpoints and do what’s right for kids.”

  • community conversations
  • finance