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Weigh In: What's the most innovative way to present a budget?

Get results by focusing on ROI and student achievement.

Constant Information
Thomas Reeder, superintendent at Wyoming Public Schools in Michigan, says, “Unfortunately, most of the public does not care about the school budget, unless there is a shortage that reduces or eliminates an offering.

“Each person can have a different view on how educational dollars should be spent. Although the core mission is the academic development of all children, schools spend a significant number of dollars on services and programs some see as essential and others see as unnecessary.

“It is an administrator’s job to continually inform and educate the public. District and school newsletters, websites, board meetings, and community forums are all traditional approaches to presenting the district’s financial status. Presenting it in an ongoing manner while explaining the purpose of the different parts of the budget helps to develop an educated public who can not only better understand but trust and support decisions.

“Schools must strive to provide safe and sound education while including quality extracurricular opportunities. We do this by being transparent with our finances and continually providing the public with an understanding of what we are and what we are not, what we provide and what we will not, and most important, what we have accomplished and what we must improve upon.”

Proof Positive
Barbara Hickman, superintendent at Flagstaff Unified School District No. 1, says, “We did a study on the impact of our district on the area economy. I worked with the Arizona Rural Policy Institute at Northern Arizona University.  

“The district operates on an annual budget commonly exceeding $100 mil­­lion ($65 million comes from local sources). The total economic impact of FUSD during fiscal year 2011 was that approximately $132.3 million was added back into the local economy.

“Then we studied the total value of a high school diploma in the labor market. If the entire class of 2011 stayed in Arizona until they were 65, the state would collect $13.6 million more in income tax because of the earning power of their diplomas.

“People are very conscious of tax expenditures. I wanted to create an actual values report that would break the argument that the school system is just a drain on the tax resources without putting anything back.

“Quantifying the taxpayers’ ROI isn’t a fun way to present the budget, but it’s a factual way to look at the value of a school district.”

Connect the Dots

Mary Bowen-Eggebraaten, superintendent at Hudson School District in Wisconsin, says, “We have an annual meeting for electors of the school district to vote on the preliminary budget. I go through the previous year’s highlights: student learning results, awards, student and staff accomplishments, staff and district recognition, results from standardized tests. Instead of just presenting the financial picture, we connect the budget to the work it supports.

“We send postcards with results, recognitions or awards, and achievements to the whole community. And we have forums with district administration for all staff.

“There’s a high level of community engagement through major initiatives. One initiative is High School Learning for the Future—how do we involve the community to develop that framework, then move forward?

“We also have partnerships with various community organizations. That helps us to be engaged, to make connections, and to serve our community.”

Ownership and Capacity
Mark Adler, superintendent of Ralston Public Schools in Nebraska says, “It’s really important to engage as many stakeholders in the school improvement process as you can so that you can clearly define the needs of your students and families and then be deliberate in your planning and execution.

“That’s how we prove our value. We’ve identified those needs as improving student achievement and developing student character and technology literacy. It’s essential to communicate to stakeholders how your budget supports those needs and how your management of the budget ties back to those needs.

“It’s all about the process, communication, and building ownership and capacity with people. But appropriate budget management and communication is a continuous effort, not a once-a-year event. We send out fliers and host a lot of budget workshops or sessions where we talk about our needs and how we’ve identified them.  

“My goal is to build a detailed area on our website for budget information, dedicate a section in our monthly newsletter toward educating stakeholders about our budget, and host community forums and luncheons or events with local leaders and state lawmakers, informing them about our district’s budget.

“We have a high level of trust and confidence from our public that we’re the experts and are trying to do the right things for our kids with our instructional programs and that we appropriately utilize resources. If we can address our needs and make things happen for our kids and families, that’s pretty powerful.”

—Winter 2013—

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