School Budgets That Make Sense

Can any business function with a one year budget?  Can any school?

Imagine you were the Chief Executive Officer of a corporation and you went to your board of directors and asked them what was the budget you had to work with during the next business year?  How many workers would you have in order to complete the work necessary? And imagine the answer you received was, “we don’t know!  You will have to wait until next year.”

Stupid?  You bet it is.  But that is the situation that happens every school year for school boards, superintendents and school principals.  Until state legislatures, local city mayors, the U.S. Department of Education and the federal government decides how much funding to give to education everyone in the field is in the dark.

Superintendents and principals are asked to develop long-term (3 to 5 year) strategic plans with answers as to how they are going to achieve improved academic success.  They have to do so while looking into a crystal ball and using previous budgets to give a “guesstamate”. Superintendents are given a 3 or 5 year contract but only a one-year budget.  Doesn’t make a lot of sense to me.

Their assumptions are predicated on the success of the economy, tax revenues maintaining their same levels, having the same number of classroom instructors, maintaining the same number of support personnel and that the price of fuel for school buses will remain the same.  They have to predict that the weather for the following year will be the same weather for this year so that the price of heating and cooling the schools and offices will not go up.

And legislatures do not always pass budgets in a reasonable time or in accordance with mandates.  Legislatures have demonstrated the ability to “pull the plug on the clock” before the midnight mandatory deadline so as to meet their requirement to have a budget in place before the start of the new budget year.

Schools need to benchmark businesses and begin to develop multi-year budgets.  But it is not up to them.  It is up to the state legislatures and governors.  I guess we are in for a long wait.