School Spending

The business of education. An online anthology on school finance from ASBJ.

Inside School Spending


  • Hiring Out
    Considering outsourcing? Here’s what you need to know
  • Rural Fundraising
    Districts in rural areas face challenges when trying to raise money
  • Outside the Box
    Technology outsourcing can help save money and expand infrastructure
  • Finding Facilities Money
    It’s not too often that a district starts construction on a new $114 million high school the same year that the state tells you the school is failing to meet the needs of its students. But that’s exactly what happened in 2011 in Delaware’s Capital School District.
  • School Lunch Money
    The problem, in many respects, comes down to money—and the fact that there’s not more of it. Like a number of federal laws, the child nutrition legislation is ambitious in its goals and woefully underfunded in meeting them.
  • Bad Weather, Big Financial Headaches for Schools
    To offset Mother Nature’s unpredictable nature, school boards typically pad the calendars with extra days to ensure that instruction can be completed in time for state testing. But when the snow piles up, as it has this year, breaks are cancelled, school days and years are extended, and everyone feels the strain.
  • Money Matters: Board Training Pays Off
    What about professional development for school boards? Today, more than 20 states require board members to receive some type of formal training. As your work becomes more complex, due largely to increased state and federal regulations that affect K-12 school, this move toward mandatory training comes as no surprise.
  • Money Matters: Paying for Technology
    A variety of low-cost or free tools are now available and accessible online, providing districts and administrators with unprecedented opportunities for collaborative professional development. Through the use of Web-based tools, video, and social media, they are elevating collaboration to a whole new level.
  • Midyear School Budget Tracking
    The approaching academic midyear point is a good time to take stock of various aspects of spending. Assess whether your district is on target to meet its financial and academic responsibilities. Take time to ask your community members for their input. But don’t stop there.
  • Dealing with Payroll Fraud
    Believe it or not, ghosts can haunt school districts all year long. You say you don’t believe in ghosts? Well, ghost employees are real, and their tricks can play havoc with your district’s payroll and budget.
  • School Contracts 101
    Labor contracts set wage levels and work rules, so naturally these contracts have a significant impact on district budgets. Side agreements that limit class size, require excessive classroom preparation time, or impose other work rules can add to a district’s bottom line. When it comes to contracts, trust but verify!
  • School Financial Accountability
    Historically, the accounts payable function has been a prime target for thieves both within and outside organizations. School districts are no exception. Unscrupulous and knowledgeable district insiders can do considerable damage to district finances. This is especially true for a small district with limited business office staffing.
  • Controlling Your District's Environment
    One of the most important attributes of a well-run school district is the control environment – the attitude, awareness, and actions of the administrative team and governing board. The control environment provides the necessary discipline and structure to ensure students receive the requisite curriculum and district resources are used wisely.
  • Controlling Educational and Financial Risks
    Just as police officers regularly confront danger, school districts face threats to their educational and financial missions. To protect district resources, board members must recognize those risks and understand the internal controls that manage them. Ignoring risk can jeopardize the district’s reputation and, in some cases, violate the law.
  • How to Lower Unemployment Costs
    Employees pay a tax for unemployment. (Wrong!) When you file for unemployment, you are entitled to it after working for so many years. (Wrong!) Employers just pay some of it, but what? (Sorta wrong.) I had to throw out everything I thought I knew about unemployment.
  • Make the Most of Borrowing
    If your district is looking to save big money, consider refinancing. Interest rates are at historic lows, but these conditions are not expected to last much longer. To benefit, school boards must be informed about the forces that influence interest rates and how they interface with the municipal bond market.
  • Status Quo Disrupted
    Courageously confronting social justice concerns without the backing of a sophisticated communications plan and a well-informed and ready-to-mobilize coalition is a bit like David taking on Goliath with only a rock and a sling shot, but without divine intervention. The end result won’t inspire much change, let alone motivate future generations.
  • Unequal Funding for Schools
    What do you say to complaints that capital spending over the past decade has put modern, well-equipped schools in affluent suburbs, while inner-city neighborhoods make do with aging buildings without gyms, modern science labs, or even libraries? What if these complaints focused on funding inequities with the same district – your school district?
  • From Trash to Treasure
    An often-overlooked opportunity can benefit both sides of the balance sheet, increasing revenue while reducing expenses. What is this opportunity? Recycling. A comprehensive conservation program in your district can convert your trash to cash, which can help to educate your students and protect the environment.
  • How to Deal With Data
    Until the mid-1990s, Michigan’s Comstock Public Schools was considered one of the premier districts in Kalamazoo County. Then the automobile industry started to contract, the funding formula for schools changed, and a burgeoning choice movement led to competition for students. Comstock’s school board knew something had to be done, and they knew they needed data.
  • Preventing District Waste and Fraud
    Does your district have a system that encourages reporting unethical or illegal behavior and protects the informants? Let’s explore how employee education, anonymous tip hotlines, and exit interviews are helping districts identify and actually do something to solve workplace problems.
  • Beware Shell Companies
    The shell game has not disappeared. Instead of nutshells, scammers use companies. Rather than a pea, companies hide their true ownership and function. Don’t hesitate to ask how your district vets vendors. Taxpayers will thank you for digging deeply to uncover buried shell companies.
  • School Claims Auditor
    Taxpayers want to know how district money is being spent. Just as importantly, they want to know that it is not being wasted. State regulations may permit the board to delegate this important responsibility to a knowledgeable, experienced claims auditor.
  • Are Field Trips Disappearing?
    Field trips can spark curiosity and help students make connections to concepts they study. In some cases, it may be the first time students have been to these places. Thirty percent of superintendents surveyed in 2012 had already nixed field trips, and 43 percent indicated they would do so next year.
  • Sharp Vision for School Leaders
    Trust the many functions of sight (insight, foresight, hindsight, and oversight) to strengthen your board’s effectiveness. While eyesight may not always be 20/20, the astute vision of your board may very well protect your district from the heartache of being blindsided.
  • Searching for School Savings
    Financial pressures have wreaked havoc with school budgets. Nevertheless, boards and administrators around the country identified new strategies to cut costs and generate new funding to protect their district’s mission. Let’s take a look at several innovative programs that may inspire your board to continue the search for savings.
  • Saving Money With Green Schools Technology
    Energy is the second largest line item in district budgets. Thanks to a prolonged economic downturn, educators are scrutinizing figures that once were considered fixed costs, taking large and small measures to make sure they get the most bang for their buck. In a word, schools are going green.
  • Voter Buy-In for Bond Issues
    An old maxim in public education is that any campaign for a bond issue – even in the best of times – must begin years before school leaders even think to ask voters for money. Public confidence in the schools must be carefully cultivated for bond votes to succeed.
  • School Business Risk
    Many districts do not have the expertise necessary to identify less commonplace risks. Board members may become complacent when unaware of risk and the internal controls necessary to mitigate it. Consequently, they do not develop strategies to forestall many damaging events. However, risk is always lurking.
  • Linking Schools and Businesses
    Business partnerships have come into sharp focus and sharp demand as public education continues to take a beating from a struggling economy. Increasingly, school districts are joining forces with area businesses, who are finding they need schools as much as schools need them to build a successful future.
  • School Transportation Scams
    Operating safe, efficient transportation requires significant outlay of resources for most districts. Unfortunately, where large sums of money are spent, opportunities for fraud arise. Taxpayers want to know that you are aware of the rising cost of transportation. Communicate clearly that cost control and fraud prevention measures are in place.
  • School District Process Management
    Houston-based American Productivity and Quality Center’s (APQC) Jack Grayson has been on a mission to translate his experience in the private sector to improve efficiencies and performance to the K-12 sector. Each of the 50 some districts APQC has worked with has achieved an average net savings of $1 million.
  • Safe Investment Practices for School Districts
    What does Wall Street history have to do with school districts? Plenty. It’s essential to understand an important aspect of protecting your district’s investments. Understanding how collateral works is more important than ever as the financial stability of many banks and brokers has come into question.
  • Online Banking Tips for Schools
    School districts have been quick to adopt many of the efficiencies offered by their banking partners. Districts save taxpayer money by making their own operations more efficient. However, cyberfraud in school districts has prompted state regulators to begin targeting online banking policies and procedures during their audits of school business operations.
  • Understanding Your Finance Department
    A laissez-faire approach to treasury oversight increases the risk that district funds will be lost or squandered. Existing guidelines may be overly general, outdated, or not reviewed on a regular basis. The board is ultimately responsible to ensure that the procedures and controls in place are effective.
  • Preventing Fraud in Your Schools
    A series of unsettling financial findings in Oklahoma’s Skiatook Public Schools toppled the head of the school system and led to several indictments. Unfortunately, such incidents are not rare. Here are eight tips for keeping your school district financially safe and sound.
  • School Maintenance Staff Oversight
    Success in the classroom depends on many factors. One often-overlooked element is the district’s buildings and grounds department. These diligent employees usually work behind the scenes and after school hours. However, you want to be certain that “out of sight” does not mean “out of control.”
  • School Leaders' Guide to Grant Writing
    All effective grant-writing programs have certain characteristics: good communications, coordination of activities, common mission statement and goals, and a feeling of shared ownership. Your list of experts should include members of the community who are willing to serve on your grant-writing team. The only failure in grant writing is not trying.
  • Preparing for E-Rate
    It is important to remember that E-rate is a journey, not a race. So instead of letting E-rate fall by the wayside until the next big deadline, we offer a few simple suggestions for completing the work for this funding year, as well as for preparing for the next funding year and beyond.
  • Five Ways for Schools to Thrive in Tight Times
    Most districts can’t keep cutting back and provide a 21st century top-quality education. Districts need to reimagine how to educate their students at a permanently lower per-pupil spending level. School districts can alter how they serve students in a world of declining resources, and serve them better by embracing five strategies.
  • The Costs of Educating Immigrants
    How much does it cost to educate immigrant students, both legal and undocumented? And what are the short- and long-term benefits of those efforts? These questions are both tremendously complex and politically charged. There is no agreed-upon estimate of the costs – let alone the benefits – of educating the children of immigrants.
  • Employee Benefits Savings
    Districts must continue to find ways to save money and keep budget cuts as far away from the classroom as possible. One area of money-saving potential is employee benefits. School districts and school boards still can realize some savings while they continue to offer health care benefits to their employees.
  • Real Estate Developments and School Districts
    Consider this scenario: A retail development is coming, with an adjacent residential housing project of three- and four-bedroom homes. The school board can turn down the insufficient subsidies offered by the developer, or it can approve the project, imposing a significant financial hardship on the district. Either way, the district loses.
  • Fraud in the Lunchroom
    Corporate bullies are siphoning large sums from money earmarked for school lunch and breakfast programs. Vendors can shortchange the weights and measures of food deliveries, or substitute inferior or counterfeit food products for higher-quality items. Cases of product substitution and cheating with weights and measures have been linked to organized crime.
  • Plan for the Best
    Parents leaving for charter schools are not all anti-public education, anti-social, or driven by religion. They do want attendance stability, relevant education, less politics and board infighting, and more beneficial programs development instead of change for the sake of change. They want less uncertainty from poor planning.
  • Follow the Money
    Two decades ago, not a single penny of taxpayer money was spent on charter schools. This year, public funding for charters will run into the billions of dollars. ASBJ looks at where the money comes from and its growing influence on education reform.
  • Being Good District Stewards
    Donors contributing money or goods are investing in your district’s mission. Let community members know that all fundraising activities must be preapproved by district leaders. Such procedures will reassure potential donors that the soliciting organization is legitimate. In addition, if the district puts measures in place to coordinate fundraising, competition between groups may be minimized.
  • Education Vital Signs: School Spending
    Education Vital Signs collection of reports on School Spending.