District and School Budgeting

District Budgeting

After providing an adequate level of dollars to each district, the next issue is for districts to budget adequate dollars to each school site.  Chapter 8 of our text addresses the nuts and bolts of budgeting at this level.

It includes descriptions of various ways districts budget resources to schools, including the more traditional staffing formulas as well as the emerging, needs-based per pupil funding formulas, called weighted student formulas in some circles. In addition, the chapters shows how the recommendations in Chapter 4, which identify adequate resources for prototypical schools, could be used to budget resources to all schools in a district.  It also discussed a new reporting form that would allow schools and districts to report expenditures by these same budgeting categories.

Districts and schools not only need to budget the resources to schools but also then need to spend those resources in ways that boost student learning. Chapter 9 of our text analyzes the way districts and schools have spent their resources in the past.

The data show that there are surprisingly common patterns of resource use across all states and districts; about 60 percent of each education dollar is spent on instructional services, about 5 percent each on instructional and pupil support, about 4-5 percent on site administration and another 4-5 percent on district administration, about 10 percent on operations and maintenance, another 5 percent on transportation and the last five percent on other miscellaneous items. The chapter also shows that the bulk of new money for schools over the last quarter of the 20th century were focused on various categories of students needing extra help.

The chapter concludes by stating that while these uses reflect good values, the specific use of those new dollars have not had the desired impact on student learning.  The implication is we need to retain those values that provide more dollars for students with more needs and find more effective ways to use those dollars.

Strategic Budgeting

The next chapter of our textbook, Chapter 10, addresses what we consider is the major challenge of school finance today – using extant dollars more effectively, what we call “strategic budgeting.”  To do so, we have concluded that schools and districts must restructure themselves into the kind of cohesive school-wide programs outlined in Chapter 5, with the specific strategies described in Chapter 4, and then reallocate current and allocate any new resources to strategies that research and best practices has shown to work – to boost student learning and reduce achievement gaps related to student demographics.  This chapter shows how the cost structure of the adequacy model we have developed is different from spending patterns in typical schools, thus implying that to produce more student learning, schools need to align practices and spending to our more powerful improving school model.

One key issue in these publications, in addition to providing guidance on how to align resources with statategies that boost student learning, is identifying the major cost pressures burdening schools: public pressure to reduce class size, parent support foe electives, and automatic pay hikes in most tacher salary schedules.  When these pressures operate in an “untamed” manner, districts often start each budget cycle behind the eightball, i.e., several pecentages short of what is needed to just maintain extent programs and services.  So strategic budgeting is both resisting the common cost increase pressures, which have little positive impact on student learning gains, and aligning the resources that are available to strategies known to boost student achievement.

Budgeting Tools

Our text and the books and articles in our Posts on the issue of Strategic Budgeting use both a school level redesign tool and a recently developed District Simulation reallocation tool.  To use the school redesign tool, users need to input staffing and discretionary dollars data for the school, together with the average cost of teachers, administrators and instructional aides.  The simulation then provides a report analyzing whether via resource reallocation the school could afford the evidence-based model developed in Chapter 4 of our text, and if not, the text suggests how schools at various levels of resources could implement the most effective elements of that model.

The District Simulation tool is quite similar (link to this tool on Picus Odden site) but allows users to input the staffing and dollar allocations for every school in the district, and to then determine how close or far away schools are from resources the Evidence-Based Model.  This simulation tool then allows uses to input desired levels of school resources to match their budget levels to what the district can afford.  Users are encouraged to read the “Read First” and “FAQ” tabs on the EXCEL based program for this district simulation tool, in order to determine how the tool works.

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