TASC List: Looking Back

Year-end seems an appropriate time to summarize some of the more recent positions TASC (Toward A Stronger Community) has taken and review a few suggestions we’ve made.  Here’s a quick look at ideas offered in meetings with authorities, discussions with involved individuals, and descriptions in this space. They are aimed at reaching more productive results, and achieving more effective ends.

All recognize that student enrollments drive facility and resource requirements and thus budget allocations. But fewer accept that Wilton is in the cyclical portion of enrollment decline, and will have the opportunity to recover costs from prior periods of buildup and reduce the expense associated with growing school populations. This decline is being experienced almost everywhere. The tools for cost recovery have been offered in fine detail.

Similarly, cost-effectiveness programs and measures abound in every school district well beyond the borders of Fairfield County. They provide useful and practical choices, options, and alternatives for a K-12 district interested in doing more with less. They are publicly and immediately available through the Internet.

Placing all education faculty, staff, administration, and management personnel on objectives-oriented performance and evaluation plans will focus the entire resource on the true and underlying mission of the district, support better outcomes throughout the system, and afford meaningful measures of effectiveness. Such programs start at the top, by placing the superintendent on a plan that parallels board objectives and interests, and gives him both incentive and motivation to maximize cost-effectiveness.

More broadly, and throughout town operations, we have proposed in specific terms the need for an internal auditor, reporting cross-functionally to the Board of Finance, Board of Education, and Board of Selectmen. Other towns have found success and improvement with this kind of position, by reducing controls exposures, minimizing missed opportunities, and implementing best practices and procedures. We made it entirely clear in the column of July 21, 2011, that this position is not focused on fraud and mismanagement, but rather seeks “improved productivity, cost control, innovation, and efficiency.”

We intervened in several situations to request the availability of documentation for public consumption, and in some cases for more or missing detail and earlier access to the material — through posting on the network, or collection of paper copies.

Recommendations were advanced to the Board of Finance to extend the capabilities of the forecasting model to display levels of confidence, statistical variability, and graphical representation — all with the objective of showing taxpayers future impacts (i.e., tax consequences) and timelines of such effects. The process of enhanced data visualization was offered for consideration, along with a proposal to assist in the process on a voluntary basis. At present, there are no plans to enhance the model, or increase its instructional value.

TASC cited a recent example of involvement by the high school golf team in collecting equipment for those who otherwise might not be able to acquire it, and their financial support of wounded veterans as the result of scoring highlights on the course. These were remarkable efforts by a young group of student athletes representing the best traditions of an educational system. Similarly, we devoted a column to the really valuable and attractive attributes of the town itself. Items ranged from walkable trails, through quality of air and light, to the intrinsic contributions of sportsmanship and volunteerism. An offer remains to reward additions to our original list and for best suggestions for improvement in cost-effectiveness.

Send any such material to The TASC Group, P.O. Box 262, Georgetown CT 06829. We welcome all input. As we have appended to each published column, Toward A Stronger Community is an independent citizens’ group seeking collaborative initiatives aimed at effectiveness, process improvement, and quality assurance across all town and school operations to produce increased value and contained cost.

Budget time discussions are too late to raise the kinds of possibilities we envision through our suggestions. The time for thorough consideration is now. And your voice is needed.