Sequestration – What the President and Congress Can Learn from School Districts

Each day we get closer to the dire predictions that will be brought on by the impending sequestration cuts, I – and many other Americans — become more and more incredulous. The country has not had a budget for 1,400 days! Is it really possible that the President and Congress (who are the elected representatives of the people) cannot agree on any reasonable reductions that would not imperil the health and safety of the nation?

As a public school central administrator for 20 years, much of my professional life revolved around the “budget process.” This is the yearly activity engaged in by every school district in the country in which budgets are proposed, massaged, presented for public discussion, approved by school boards, and then passed or defeated by the voters.

If school districts, which are mini-government entities, are capable of crafting budget plans each year, why not the federal government? If school districts can mine their budgets to find non-essential and less essential areas to cut, why can’t the President and Congress do so within the vast $46.3 trillion in federal government spending?

Sure, school districts engage in politics too when presenting their budgets. They may threaten to cut full-day kindergarten, sports programs, or other popular offerings, and sometimes they are cut. But often when there is an outcry from parents, these reductions are shelved in favor of those that have less impact on students and the educational programs.

There is no question that there is a political game going on now and voters should be outraged by this fifth budget showdown in two years. We are being told that the cuts will result in an unsafe food supply, an end to important medical research, more criminals on the street, dangerous air traffic, the devastation of Head Start, the crippling of the military, etc., etc.

I have a strong suspicion that there is likely some fat in the federal government. Why can’t Democrats and Republicans stop the shenanigans and start looking for at least some of the $1.2 trillion draconian sequestration cuts in less painful parts of the vast governmental enterprise? For starters, here are just a few areas where there could very well be hidden spending:

  • New equipment, including furniture, computers, etc.
  • Food – lunches, dinners, meetings, special events etc.
  • Overtime – clerical and custodial
  • Conferences
  • Travel
  • Staff – clerical, custodial, administrative
  • Consolidating and eliminating programs that do not affect health and safety.

School boards generally try to engage in responsible spending at the same time they refrain from hurting their constituents and decimating the heart and soul of their educational programs; the President and Congress should apply that lesson as they move forward.

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