Sales 101

Posted: Sunday, May 16, 2010

The relationship between the Bor-ough Assembly and the borough school system is a curious one.

On one side is the school board, a group of individuals elected to be responsible for setting the financial direction and future of our school system.

On the other side is the assembly, a group of individuals elected to be responsible for setting the financial direction of an entire geographic region and the services it provides, the school system being one of those services.

In state statute and borough ordinance the responsibilities of the two entities is clear. Borough assembly distributes revenues. School board accepts those revenues and combines them with other money sources (the state, the federal government) and lives with what it gets.

It should be that simple. But not on the Kenai Peninsula, it seems.

We have a school system that has, over the years, grown used to asking for the maximum amount allowed by law. And we had a borough assembly that was willing to give schools that maximum amount. During those years the battle for sufficient funding lay in Juneau, arguing over the state contribution.

That battlefront changed a little more than a year ago and now it seems it's on local ground where the school system needs to put its best sales foot forward, especially in a district where nearly 80 percent of residents don't have children in the school.

We're not certain that the school system -- the board of education and the administration -- has quite gotten that message yet.

So far this year we've seen the school system ask for one amount from the borough -- $45.2 million-- and the borough shave $4 million from that request. We've seen the borough mayor, Dave Carey, come back to the district asking for more information. And once he got the answers, Carey says he still had questions about how the school system spends and how it plans to spend in the future.

Then we saw the school system readjust their budget, putting jobs on the block. In response, the mayor and an assembly member are now proposing to give back half what was originally cut.

We're left to scratch our heads and wonder whether the school system did the best job in selling the mayor and the borough how they spend and why.

As we've presented above, neither the borough assembly nor the mayor should be micro-managing the school system. That's not their job. And we're not suggesting here that our school managers are in any way mismanaging money.

But when assembly members feel compelled to question reserve budgets or start worrying about school district jobs, or when the mayor feels compelled to send school officials a laundry list of questions, that suggests that the initial sales presentation left some gaps. And any good salesperson knows you don't leave the customer feeling uninformed.

We understand that selling its budget to the borough assembly is something the school system hasn't had much experience at in recent years. We hope they're taking notes now.

In short: An informed customer is a happy customer, in business or in government.

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