All the money in our school outside of grants and donations is public money. To this end, it is incumbent upon school administrators to be transparent, good stewards of the public money entrusted to them. In our school we have about $14 million dollars directed to 2,170 or so students. This includes money for personnel, which accounts for about 87% of our budget. We have the flexibility at the building level through our Site Based Decision Making Council (SBDM) comprised at our school of the Principal, an Assistant Principal, six teachers, and four parents to determine at the building level what best fits our needs. For example we see a large need in our school for support of student mental health- so we added a social worker and a mental health counselor. Or, we need more security to monitor the hallways, so we hire additional security. Or, we need more teachers in a specific area, so we hire more teachers. The point being there is a large amount of flexibility at the building level to determine what best fits the needs of our students.
It is my belief we must be transparent and communicate well how we utilize these monies. I believe it is important to communicating the mission of the school by showing sound fiscal practice and accountability. Often you will see arguments made about “Per pupil spending”, and I would urge anyone interested to research how these figures are arrived at. Many times opponents of the effectiveness of public education will say something to the effect of “Well they spend 15,000 a kid and look at the results!?!” These are usually disingenuous arguments that have little merit and are created for shock value to justify the writer’s position.
My editorial here is that often, we don’t have enough capital to do what we want and more times than not we rob peter to pay paul. In the examples above, for every position we add or change, we’re prioritizing doing without something else. This is the reality of public education. if I had the ability to wave a magic wand for school funding these are the things I would look at first:
1. Funding that is equitable to the needs of the population served. Students who are at risk, high needs, and come from poverty require significantly more resources to educate than those who do not. This isn’t a value judgement, it’s the truth from my experience. This literally means some schools require more money than others. This is a hard pill to swallow. Some would say title funding accounts for this. However in my building, it’s $350ish thousand out of a 14 million dollar budget. Not as big an impact as one would think.
2. Fund based off of enrollment rather than attendance. We know high needs schools have lower attendance for a variety of factors. So why fund them on it? It creates an inherent inequity. Fund on enrollment first.
3. Society has made it CLEAR they expect the schoolhouse to solve all the ills of society. They expect us to teach, be mentors, solve poverty, provide health services, etc. So fund us to this end. Not just one or two mental health or social service counselors. No, fund us with full wraparound services, or do it for real in the community. What we have now is not enough, and if society EXPECTS us to cure these ills, then give us the tools to solve them.
4. Divert ALL fundng at the state level used for standardized testing, and paying massive Edu-corps for “accountability” back into the schools. NCLB gave us the high stakes rat race, and I’d contend it wasn’t worth a hill of beans. So leave it behind and put those tax dollars back into schools.
I realize many of these are “pie in the sky” but I have a good 15-20 years left in our profession, and I’ll continue to do my part to advocate for these changes. Wrapping up- transparency in the budget of your school is important, as is working to better funding solutions for our students.
Our budget presentation to our school community last year: