School Budgeting for Hard Times: Confronting Cutbacks and Critics

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William K. Poston Jr.

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    Foreword

    Budget figures reveal far more about proposed policy than speeches.

    U.S. President Harry S. Truman

    It would be hard to imagine a more timely book to confront the overwhelming gloom and doom atmosphere in which American education is currently shrouded than this one. The deep recession in the nation's financial heartland on Wall Street has prompted a search for funds to keep school systems afloat and avoid debilitating layoffs and reductions in basic educational programs. Today, school system administrators are considering such dire antidotes to fiscal exigencies as moving to a four-day work week, closing dozens of schools, furloughing or cutting back on teachers, and other drastic remedies once thought ill-advised in order to reduce costs to match shrinking revenues.

    The lack of progress in advancing student achievement in the nation's inner city schools such as Kansas City and Detroit is resulting in greater pushes for privatization, and more critics saying that U.S. public education hasn't got any better despite billions of dollars spent to improve it. Such criticism ignores the fact that there is no national system of education in the United States, but rather fifty different systems of education and many subunits, called school districts, within each of those. It is here that we can locate the basic responsibilities for educating our children.

    So readers should know that Bill Poston is an educator first and an educational financial analyst second. He is a former math and physics teacher, middle school principal, and superintendent of schools in Arizona and Montana. He has fought the budget wars and won most of them in his career. In the process, he conducted workshops and staff development sessions on performance-based budgeting all over the country. He was the executive director of the Iowa School Business Management Academy for over 15 years and a professor of educational administration for 15 years at Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa.

    What makes Bill Poston different from other writers about school budgeting is that he has never “confused things of logic for the logic of things” (Bourdieu, 1998, p. 101), meaning he understands that budgets are the means to educational ends and are not ends themselves. He also understands that budget priorities reflect the unique values held dear by Americans and are highly localized wherever Americans may live and work. So this book about performance-based budgeting is the means for locally elected or appointed boards of education and their superintendents to use the always scarce resources from taxes to attain more of their valued ends than before and avoid the dire cutbacks which threaten the viability and vibrancy of our local educational systems during these hard times.

    The advice in this book is hard-earned wisdom—it's from an educator who has walked the walk. Bill Poston is not an armchair theorist or policy wonk writing in a think tank cubicle whose only connections to the real world are blogs, web pages and thin-aired theoretical arguments of esoteric quantitative mole hills. He's a former U.S. marine who is the youngest elected international president of Phi Delta Kappa in its history, and an administrator who has “been there.” I've always admired how Bill keeps his feet on the ground and finds a way to teach through his wonderful stories he has collected over a long and distinguished career, and how he brings his experience home to make a difference for thousands of children, in classrooms all over America, who may never know his name, but who have benefited from his advice, caring, and hard-nosed compassion.

    Fenwick W.EnglishR. Wendell Eaves Senior Distinguished Professor of Educational Leadership, School of Education, University of North, Carolina at Chapel Hill

    Preface

    Budgeting: Balancing Cost Efficiency and Educational Effectiveness

    A plethora of fiscal crises is clearly negatively impacting schools across the nation. Economic stress has proliferated globally in recent months, with financial reductions trickling down to cause stress and strain in individual school system budgets. Moreover, with political efforts to reduce the scope of government, including school systems, commentators and critics of public schools continue unabated in their assaults on tax revenues. Shortfalls, cutbacks, and retrenchment have emerged of late to threaten not only education itself but also the essential quality of schooling and human development for youth. The end does not appear to be in sight at the time of this writing. Coping with financial rollbacks and justifying educational programs and services in times of financial recession is no easy task. Although the work is challenging and time is fleeting, education can demonstrate quality to skeptics, exhibit fiscal prudence to taxpayers, and enhance productivity given suitable tools, processes, and confidence in the mutually beneficial relationship between schools and society.

    This book seeks to provide the tools, procedures, and some insights into how productivity is enhanced within the prevailing context of limited resources and problematical decision making in resource allocations. Budgeting is the result of a number of actions taken in school systems, including the following:

    • The determination of the resources the system may need and where it might use them
    • The identification of where and how the system may derive revenues and funding
    • The choices the system may make for using those revenues on programs, services, or matériel (i.e. equipment, apparatus, and supplies of an organization)
    • The selection and execution of a decision-making process for allocating resources
    • The demonstration of quality within the educational institutions despite limited resources and public gloom common in hard economic times

    However, the challenge of budgeting doesn't end there. School leaders need to choose from several types of budgeting processes, to follow principles of quality enhancement with cost-benefit analysis, and to capitalize on the benefits of performance-based budgeting processes to get optimal productivity or “bang for the buck” and to assure their constituencies that confidence in the school system is not misplaced.

    It is time for a change in school budgeting practices for a number of reasons. Most school administrators are aware of contemporary pressures caused by social-political forces that want schools to get better at what they do while at the same time expecting those improved results with the same or even less financial support. This anomaly persistently challenges educational leaders to meet often conflicting expectations.

    Of course, school transformation and improvement activities have significant budget and management implications. In improving the effectiveness and quality of instruction, it is often necessary to make changes in operations without any corresponding increase in resources. The challenge is to improve the productivity of schools within existing, or even diminishing, resources. As one discerning teacher once said, “We need to do more with less.” Educators have had to make do with little in the way of resources for generations, and have done remarkably well under the circumstances.

    Moreover, budgeting for both quality and economy is not quite that simple, and school improvement calls for careful planning, particularly in the use of scarce resources. As educators work to budget financial, human, and technical resources for school quality enhancement, the focus of activity must be on what needs to be achieved, not what the organization plans to buy.

    Performance-based budgeting is remarkably straightforward, but it is not commonly found in public schools across the country. It is a different paradigm, but it provides school systems with improved understandings of system needs, program and service initiatives, and ways and means of evaluating for system advancement in their core mission—teaching and learning. Performance-based budgeting is based upon some clear-cut—some might say common sense—principles, including the following:

    • Budget making is not a plan—it is a financial mechanism to carry out an organizational plan.
    • Closely held budget processes and closed governance are potentially corruptible. Transparency in budgeting is necessary for credibility and productivity.
    • Participatory decision making is not the same as shared decision making, where decisions are “made and shared.” It is decision making where participants are equals in formulating determinations.
    • Participatory decision making leads to better information, decisions, understanding, and support.
    • Tangible connections between costs and objectives are essential—what is gained or lost needs to be clearly evident with or without funding.
    • Budget decision accountability demands evidence of results and performance, lucid validity of assertions and intentions, and demonstrated improvement in organizational outputs per unit of input.

    The recent proliferation of fiscal crises is clearly negatively impacting schools across North America. This book offers practical strategies to overcome obstacles and constraints. It's a guide to doing more with less. It hopefully provides tools for school system leaders in confronting financial constraints, in surmounting organizational limitations, and in improving the quality of the educational enterprise.

    On a final note, no book of any type is the exclusive product of one individual, and this book is no exception. First and foremost, I am eternally grateful for the blessings and encouragement I have received from my wife of nearly five decades, Marcia, and my supportive family—especially my daughters, Heather Boeschen and Holly Kaptain, who unselfishly contributed to the quality of this book.

    It is important to note my gratitude for Sam Bliss, professor at Northern Arizona University, who piqued my curiosity in his book on zero-based budgeting—which is referred to in this book as incremental budgeting—and also appreciation for Gary Knox, my colleague in Billings, Montana, for three years, for sharing with me the concepts of zero-based budgeting he had used in Salem, Oregon, over 25 years ago. Most importantly, I am deeply grateful to Dr. Fenwick English, Distinguished Professor of Educational Leadership at the University of North Carolina, who spurred me to action in making sure the needs of curriculum and learning would drive the budgeting process, not the other way around.

    Of course, I would be remiss not to express gratitude to many colleagues who steadfastly implemented the budgeting approach and provided constructive feedback, including David Shapley (Hopkins, Minnesota), Randy Stortz (Bay Village, Ohio), Milt Pippinger (Garden City, Kansas), Dave Suman (Osseo, Minnesota), Galen Howsare (West Des Moines, Iowa), Roger Anton (Salinas, California), Cole Pugh (Eagle Mountain-Saginaw, Texas), and Ben Picard (Sunnyvale, California).

    Gratitude is also due to many, many others, too numerous to list here. And that sentiment underscores one of the philosophical underpinnings of the precept that “all of us are smarter than any of us.” To my many friends and colleagues who have shared in and contributed to my professional growth and knowledge, I humbly offer my sincere thanks.

    Acknowledgments

    Corwin gratefully acknowledges the contributions of the following reviewers:

    Randel Beaver

    Superintendent

    Archer City Independent School District

    Archer City, Texas

    David L. Flynn

    Director of Commission on Public Elementary and Middle Schools

    New England Association of Schools and Colleges

    Bedford, MA

    David Freitas

    Professor

    Indiana University, South Bend

    Granger, Indiana

    Gary Lee Frye

    Director of Developments and Grants

    Lubbock-Cooper Independent School District

    Lubbock, Texas

    R. Kieth Williams

    Retired Public School Superintendent

    Professor, Director of Educational Leadership

    Harding University

    Searcy, Arkansas

    About the Author

    William K. Poston, Jr., EdD is an Emeritus Professor of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies at Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa, where he served for 17 years. He began his educational career as a math and physics teacher, and he accumulated 25 years of experience in educational administration including 15 years as a superintendent in Tucson and Phoenix, Arizona, and in Billings, Montana.

    Dr. Poston earned his BA degree at the University of Northern Iowa, and his EdS and EdD degrees at Arizona State University. He served in the United States Marine Corps from 1958 to 1961. He has many distinctive professional achievements, including service as the youngest-elected international president of Phi Delta Kappa, and selection as an Outstanding Young Leader in American Education in 1980.

    Dr. Poston was the executive director of the Iowa School Business Management Academy—the licensure program for school business managers in Iowa—for 15 years. He is the originator of curriculum-driven budgeting, and he has led over 75 curriculum audits in the United States and other countries. He has written 13 books and over 40 journal articles and continues to provide extensive service to schools in the areas of evaluation, curriculum management auditing, performance-based budgeting, and organizational quality improvement.

  • Appendix A

    Building a Budget Management System
    Recommended Actions for Governing Boards and Superintendents

    The following recommendations are typical of those proposed to school systems following curriculum management audits, in the event of audit findings that have traditional budgeting processes and that do not meet the criteria for performance-based budgeting. The recommendations proffer a fundamental set of actions to help a school system design and implement a budget planning process that is more programmatic in focus, includes strategies for effectively prioritizing expenditures, and tightens the linkage between resources and results.

    To assist the system in clarifying responsibilities for the governing board and the administration, the recommended actions are divided into two parts: governance functions and administrative functions.

    Governance Functions

    The following actions are commonly recommended for governing boards (CMSi, 2009):

    Administrative Functions

    The following actions are frequently recommended to the school system superintendent of schools:

    Continuation for Subsequent Budget Cycles

    Once the process has been implemented and evaluated, the superintendent may increase the application of the revised budget development steps annually until all system budgeting follows similar performance-based budgeting procedures. Refine and modify as needed to accomplish the goal of a data-driven decision-making framework and an allocation system based upon measured needs, essentiality to the system, and monitored results. In this manner, the school system's quest for quality will persevere and endure.

    Appendix B: Needs Assessment of Budget Policy and Development Issues

    Appendix C: Summary of Program Evaluation Standards1

    Propriety Standards

    The propriety standards are intended to ensure that an evaluation will be conducted legally, ethically, and with due regard for the welfare of those involved in the evaluation, as well as those affected by its results.

    P1: Service Orientation. Evaluations should be designed to assist organizations to address and effectively serve the needs of the full range of targeted participants.

    P2: Formal Agreements. Obligations of the formal parties to an evaluation (what is to be done, how, by whom, when) should be agreed to in writing, so that these parties are obligated to adhere to all conditions of the agreement or formally to renegotiate it.

    P3: Rights of Human Subjects. Evaluations should be designed and conducted to respect and protect the rights and welfare of human subjects.

    P4: Human Interactions. Evaluators should respect human dignity and worth in their interactions with other persons associated with an evaluation, so that participants are not threatened or harmed.

    P5: Complete and Fair Assessment. The evaluation should be complete and fair in its examination and recording of strengths and weaknesses of the program being evaluated, so that strengths can be built upon and problem areas addressed.

    P6: Disclosure of Findings. The formal parties to an evaluation should ensure that the full set of evaluation findings along with pertinent limitations are made accessible to the persons affected by the evaluation and any others with expressed legal rights to receive the results.

    P7: Conflict of Interest. Conflict of interest should be dealt with openly and honestly, so that it does not compromise the evaluation processes and results.

    P8: Fiscal Responsibility. The evaluator's allocation and expenditure of resources should reflect sound accountability procedures and otherwise be prudent and ethically responsible, so that expenditures are accounted for and appropriate.

    1 Joint Committee on Standards for Educational Evaluation, Sanders, J., Chair. (1994). Program evaluation standards. Retrieved from: http://www.jcsee.org/program-evaluation-standards

    Utility Standards

    The utility standards are intended to ensure that an evaluation will serve the information needs of intended users.

    U1: Stakeholder Identification. Persons involved in or affected by the evaluation should be identified, so that their needs can be addressed.

    U2: Evaluator Credibility. The persons conducting the evaluation should be both trustworthy and competent to perform the evaluation, so that the evaluation findings achieve maximum credibility and acceptance.

    U3: Information Scope and Selection. Information collected should be broadly selected to address pertinent questions about the program and be responsive to the needs and interests of clients and other specified stakeholders.

    U4: Values Identification. The perspectives, procedures, and rationale used to interpret the findings should be carefully described, so that the bases for value judgments are clear.

    U5: Report Clarity. Evaluation reports should clearly describe the program being evaluated, including its context, and the purposes, procedures, and findings of the evaluation, so that essential information is provided and easily understood.

    U6: Report Timeliness and Dissemination. Significant interim findings and evaluation reports should be disseminated to intended users, so that they can be used in a timely fashion.

    U7: Evaluation Impact. Evaluations should be planned, conducted, and reported in ways that encourage follow-through by stakeholders, so that the likelihood that the evaluation will be used is increased.

    Feasibility Standards

    The feasibility standards are intended to ensure that an evaluation will be realistic, prudent, diplomatic, and frugal.

    F1: Practical Procedures. The evaluation procedures should be practical, to keep disruption to a minimum while needed information is obtained.

    F2: Political Viability. The evaluation should be planned and conducted with anticipation of the different positions of various interest groups, so that their cooperation may be obtained, and so that possible attempts by any of these groups to curtail evaluation operations or to bias or misapply the results can be averted or counteracted.

    F3: Cost Effectiveness. The evaluation should be efficient and produce information of sufficient value, so that the resources expended can be justified.

    Accuracy Standards

    The accuracy standards are intended to ensure that an evaluation will reveal and convey technically adequate information about the features that determine worth or merit of the program being evaluated.

    A1: Program Documentation. The program being evaluated should be described and documented clearly and accurately, so that the program is clearly identified.

    A2: Context Analysis. The context in which the program exists should be examined in enough detail, so that its likely influences on the program can be identified.

    A3: Described Purposes and Procedures. The purposes and procedures of the evaluation should be monitored and described in enough detail, so that they can be identified and assessed.

    A4: Defensible Information Sources. The sources of information used in a program evaluation should be described in enough detail, so that the adequacy of the information can be assessed.

    A5: Valid Information. The information-gathering procedures should be chosen or developed and then implemented so that they will assure that the interpretation arrived at is valid for the intended use.

    A6: Reliable Information. The information-gathering procedures should be chosen or developed and then implemented so that they will assure that the information obtained is sufficiently reliable for the intended use.

    A7: Systematic Information. The information collected, processed, and reported in an evaluation should be systematically reviewed, and any errors found should be corrected.

    A8: Analysis of Quantitative Information. Quantitative information in an evaluation should be appropriately and systematically analyzed so that evaluation questions are effectively answered.

    A9: Analysis of Qualitative Information. Qualitative information in an evaluation should be appropriately and systematically analyzed so that evaluation questions are effectively answered.

    A10: Justified Conclusions. The conclusions reached in an evaluation should be explicitly justified, so that stakeholders can assess them.

    A11: Impartial Reporting. Reporting procedures should guard against distortion caused by personal feelings and biases of any party to the evaluation, so that evaluation reports fairly reflect the evaluation findings.

    A12: Metaevaluation. The evaluation itself should be formatively and summatively evaluated against these and other pertinent standards, so that its conduct is appropriately guided and, on completion, stakeholders can closely examine its strengths and weaknesses.

    Appendix D: Editorial in Reference to Performance-Based Budgeting

    During school year 1994–95, Dr. Larry Vaughn, superintendent of the Wichita, Kansas, schools, prepared his system for a major change in budgeting. After over a year of professional development, budget process reconfigurations, and considerable work by a budget advisory team, Dr. Vaughn publicly presented the refurbished budget format, containing collaboratively developed rank-ordered program package components. The local press discussed the innovative approach to the system's budget in an editorial shortly after the new budget presentation.

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    Parish, T., Harr, J., Anthony, J., Merickel, A., & Esra, P. (2003). State special education finance systems, 1999–2000. Palo Alto, CA: The Center for Special Education Finance (CSEF), American Institutes for Research (AIR). Retrieved from http://csef.air.org/publications/csef/state/statpart1.pdf
    Poston, W. (1992). The equity audit in school reform: Building a theory for institutional research. International Journal of Educational Reform, 1(3), 235–241.
    Roza, M., & McCormick, M. (2006). Where the money goes: District allocation practices harming high-poverty schools. School Business Affairs, 72(1), 6–10.
    McKeown, B., & Thomas, D. (1988). Q methodology. Quantitative Applications in the Social Sciences Series, No. 66. Newbury Park, CA: Sage.
    Oklahoma Association of Municipal Attorneys v. State, 577 P.2d 1310 (Okla. 1978).
    Poston, W., Stone, P., & Muther, C. (1992). Making schools work: Practical management of support operations. Successful Schools Series, No. 7. Newbury Park, CA: Corwin.
    Schwing, A. (2006–2008). The open meeting law reference for all 50 states: Open meeting laws 2d. Sponsored by the International Municipal Lawyers Association. Anchorage, AK: Fathom. Retrieved from http://www.openmeetinglaws.com/index.html
    South Africa Scouts. (2009). Qualities of a good committee chairperson. South Africa: ScoutWeb. Retrieved from http://www.scouting.org.za/resources/committee/GoodChairperson.pdf
    Center for Teaching and Learning. (2010). Mathematics of voting. Tuscaloosa, AL: University of Alabama. Retrieved from http://www.ctl.ua.edu/math103/Voting/mathemat.htm
    Lingle, R., & Feinberg, T. (2005). Parliamentary procedures: Interesting facts and tips. Urbana-Champaign: University of Illinois Extension. Retrieved from http://urbanext.illinois.edu/lcr/procedure.cfm
    McKeown, B., & Thomas, D. (1988). Q methodology. Quantitative Applications in the Social Sciences Series, No. 66. Newbury Park, CA: Sage.
    Broh, R. (1982). Managing quality for higher profits. New York: McGraw-Hill. Retrieved from http://mot.vuse.vanderbilt.edu/mt322/Whatis.htm
    Curriculum Management Systems, Inc. (CMSi). (2009). The curriculum management improvement model: Level 1 Audit Training Program Book 2. Program evaluation. Johnston, IA: Author.
    Deming, W. (1986). Out of the crisis. Cambridge, MA: Massachusetts Institute of Technology Press.
    Deming, W. (1993). The new economics for industry, government, education. Cambridge, MA: Massachusetts Institute of Technology Press.
    Joint Committee on Standards for Educational Evaluation (Sanders, J., Chair). (1994). The program evaluation standards: How to assess evaluations of educational programs. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
    Katzenbach, J., & Smith, D. (1994). The wisdom of teams: Creating the high-performance organization. New York: HarperCollins.
    Scriven, M. (1967). The methodology of evaluation. Washington DC: American Educational Research Association.
    Spear, S. (2009). Chasing the rabbit: How market leaders outdistance the competition and how great companies can catch up and win. New York: McGraw-Hill
    Cokins, G., & Pirrello, C. (2007). Putting it all together: A unified approach to performance management (White Paper). Cary, NC: SAS Institute, Inc. Retrieved from http://www.sas.com/offices/asiapacific/taiwan/images/gary_notes/putting_it.pdf
    English, F. W. (1987). Curriculum management for schools, colleges, business. Springfield, IL: Charles C Thomas.
    Fullan, M. (1993). Change forces: Probing the depths of educational reform. London: Falmer (Routledge).
    Poston, W. (1992, June). In times of scarcity, let the curriculum drive your budget. The School Administrator. 69(6), 18–21.
    Potts, J. (2002, March 18). Public school funding options meet resistance. Pittsburgh Tribune Review. Retrieved from http://www.pittsburghlive.com/x/pittsburghtrib/s_61798.html
    Appendix A
    Downey, C., & Steffy, B. (Eds.). (2009). Generally accepted audit principles for curriculum management (and Addendum). Johnston, IA: Curriculum Management Systems, Inc. (CMSi).
    Additional Suggested Reading
    American Association of School Administrators, National Association of Elementary School Principals, and National Association of Secondary School Principals. (1988). School-based management: A strategy for better learning. Washington, DC: AASA Publications.
    Cuban, L. (1988). The managerial imperative and the practice of leadership in schools. Albany, NY: SUNY Press.
    Goodlad, J. I. (1984). A place called school: Prospects for the future. New York: McGraw-Hill.
    National Commission on Excellence in Education (1983). A nation at risk: The imperative for educational reform. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education.
    Poston, W. K. (1990). Curriculum-driven budgeting: Case study of a recent approach to quality control. National Forum of Educational Administration and Supervision Journal, 7(2), 59–69.
    Poston, W. K. (1991, January). Curriculum-driven budgeting: Using educational priorities in school budgets. Paper presented at a seminar of the National Academy for School Executives, San Diego, CA.
    Poston, W. K. (2005). Finance, planning, and budgeting. In F.English (Ed.), The Sage handbook of educational leadership: Advances in theory, research, and practice, (Part V, pp. 550–570). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage. http://dx.doi.org/10.4135/9781412976091
    Swanson, A. D., & King, R. A. (1991). School finance: Its economics and politics. New York: Longman.
    Wood, R. C. (Ed.). (1986). Principles of school business management. Reston, VA: Association for School Business Officials.

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