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Best practices, by all means
April 28, 2017

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Amidst the hubbub at the joint workshop between City Council and the Cape Coral Charter School Authority, the point of Monday's sitdown got lost.

The agenda item that drew the elected and Council-appointed board together was intended to be a discussion of the city-prepared and solicited Joint Charter School Sustainability/Best Practices report.

The report and its attachments and backup materials comprised a hefty packet, complete with various financial scenarios and a plethora of "best practices" recommendations - 57 of them to be exact, with nearly half having to do with finance-related changes.

The conclusion?

A recommendation that would require the school system to use city resources - i.e. designate the Charter Schools as a department of the city - "for financial, personnel, technology, record keeping and risk."

Much of the "best practices" recommendations are, in fact, predicated on the city providing those services.

We agree, some of the recommendations make good sense out of the gate. Using the same software platforms and email systems come immediately to mind.

Others are open to debate.

A whole lot of debate.

The city is basing its foundation recommendation - substantive change to how its municipal charter schools operate - on its presented concerns about costs, sustainability and taxpayer subsidies.

The Authority board was chastised for daring to start its budget discussions with a working document that would require using about $2.4 million in reserves - if the "wish list" budget is rubber-stamped as is - while the city "subsidizes" the system because reimbursement does not cover the total cost of city computed staff time.

Yet the city administration recommends INCREASING costs to the school system by adding non-classroom personnel and GREATER "implicit subsidies" by requiring the school system to use more city-provided services as do other "departments."

Only in government can one propose to correct a perceived financial crisis by throwing more money at it.

With these things in mind, we have some "best practices" recommendations of our own:

One, the summary recommendation of the Cape Coral Charter School Staff Services Best Practice Analysis comes as little surprise to those who have been following the politically charged controversy since late last year.

Despite protestations by city officials that neither its administration nor Council is trying to "take over" the charter school system, that's exactly where the best practices report landed: With the administration proposing to invoke an ordinance provision that allows the city to "to require the Authority to use city departments and personnel for services including, but not limited to, human resources, purchasing, administrative, accounting, financial, engineering, risk management, construction, repair and maintenance, insurance and other related services from the city. The city shall charge a fee or fees for those services; the fee or fees shall be equal to the cost of providing those services."

With the ink on that Best Practice analysis report barely dry, three members of Council on Monday suggested that if the system were to become a city department, that Council should assume the duties of the Authority board.

Best practices recommendation: Foregone conclusions are not conclusions. Conclusions follow discussion, not drive the talks. There are valid issues on the table. They need to be fixed. Concentrate on those issues. Then decide how - and by whom- they should be addressed.

Two, the charter school working budget, which includes school-proposed needs and wants as well as an ambitious expansion plan tentatively line-itemed as a single year cash expenditure, is just that - a working budget. It would be great if it came in lean and mean, balanced out-of-the-gate to the penny with no "wish list" items and revenue to spare. But that's not even a standard the city has held itself to in the past.

Best practices recommendation: Stick to the facts and let the process perk. Just a bit. There is no $2.4 million budget deficit. Yet. The Charter School Authority held its first budget discussion last Friday, barely scratching the surface.

School board members agree there is work to be done on the budget. Council, to the person, seems to have that same view.

So why the sky-is-falling controversy?

Third, the city continues to apply a wait-wait, delay-delay, rush-rush approach to resolving issues in a manner it sees fit.

The pattern starts on the administrative level where documents and backup material on agenda items are often not ready on a timely basis. Packets are then released late, meaning Council members have to hastily wade though voluminous pages and reports before their meeting.

The best practices analysis is just the latest example.

Let us point out that the Charter School Authority had two scheduled meetings on Friday, one in the morning, followed by its budget session. The report was not released before those meetings. Council was not copied until late Friday afternoon.

That means the Authority board members had no opportunity to discuss the report prior to their joint meeting with members of Council - and Council had little time to prepare for Monday's workshop unless they brought the report home or relied on any explanation provided by the city manager Monday morning.

The reason for this continuing lack of both urgency and respect for a process that absolutely involves not only any entity affected by taxpayer-funded studies and reports but the public as well?

The city administration, "works for Council."

Ho-hum for the rest of us.

This has to change - it's like a company's CEO saying he works for the board of directors and so can ignore the stockholders.

Best practices recommendation: Implement a process that respects both the system and the various entities bureaucratic types like to refer to as stakeholders. That is all members of Council, who take the flak when they attend meetings without the opportunity to vet the material and garner input. That is, in this case, the Charter School Authority members, volunteers who take the flak on findings they have not had the opportunity to review. And that is the rest of us who have to pay for the Monday night fights, brought to us courtesy of those whose efforts often smack of an agenda, rather than the agenda.

Best practices to improve operations and practices?

Sure thing. Count us in.

- Breeze editorial

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