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MASA Leader Winter 2013

MASA Feature Retooling Your Budget Process How “re-learning” school finance can ensure school dollars reach students more effectively By Donald Sovey, CPA, CFO Ointendents about how to work withver the last year, I have had manyconversations with newer super- the business side of their school district to open new conversations on budget. In many of my districts I find that the budget process has been absent from discussions concerning the school improve- ment process. My observation is that school budget work is often an after- thought consisting of a rushed process at the end of a busy school year to meet the July 1 deadline of presenting a balanced budget. The science of budgeting There is a science to budgeting. Unfortun- effectiveness. With agreement on the look at a zero-base budgeting approach ately the college accounting curricula expected end result, you can set budget by identifying the service levels you wish in universities devotes very little time, and spending parameters with your to preserve in our declining revenue if any, to budget theory and procedures. administrative and board leadership. environment. By embracing zero-base With the high turnover rate of Michigan The budget parameters, including budgeting you will begin to agree that superintendents, it is important that new those for contract negotiations, can past spending patterns will no longer be leaders ask important questions on one of drive the budget discussion with your taken as a given. Once this conclusion their most important roles. One question organization during the budget process. is reached, you can begin to move away should be: How should our district best from incremental budgeting habits used allocate scarce resources? Identifying leadership roles for central in the past to a more collaborative method office, principals, and supervisors is of intentional allocations based on a level Retooling your budget process will require critical in the budget development of desired service. a new vision and related goals. Your district’s phase to garner ownership. Breaking strategic plan will need to be a driver in your large budget down into manageable Flattening the decision-making process the process. If a district lacks a strategic cost centers with stated expectations It is important that top leadership— plan, it is important for you to secure and various options for future levels of including the superintendent and board— an independent organization that can service will help the superintendent and agree to this process from the onset, help in the development of a visionary board oversee your large budget, because zero-base budgeting takes more plan that includes instruction, finance, usually one of the most significant financial organizational time and effort to execute. and district operations as components. operations in your community. Your building and operational adminis- trators also need to buy into this process. Establish budget parameters Abandon incremental budgeting The process will require that current data With your strategic plan in place, budget If across-the-board cuts are not meeting be used as a basis for decision making and planning will increase your budget your classroom needs, it may be time to allocation of funding. 20 MASA LEADER • January 2013


MASA Leader Winter 2013
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