Becoming an Effective School Budget Steward

By Doug Eadie

School boards all over the country have found their participation in preparing their district’s annual operating plan/budget to be an extremely frustrating experience, leading to the kind of dissatisfaction and irritation that can seriously erode the board-superintendent-senior administrator partnership. This need not be the case, as the example of a small rural district in the South demonstrates.

The gap between theory and practice has probably never been wider than in the operational planning/budgeting realm. On the theoretical side, everyone has heard the annual operating plan/budget described as the board’s “preeminent policy statement” because it sets the district’s game plan for the coming year, allocating funds to specific educational and administrative functions. On the other hand, all too often, board members are confronted with a finished tome only a few weeks before the budget must be adopted, and it is so dense that it defies easy understanding.

The result is that many school boards, in my experience, merely thumb through page after page of numbers, asking relatively minor questions about one detail or another that they have played virtually no role in creating. This is about as far away from high-impact governing as possible.

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