5 Ways to Super-Charge Your Budget Planning for 2022 and Beyond
1. Earmark upcoming expenditures for the current year at the start of the process.
Since the early days of the pandemic, the only “constant” has been change. This is especially true for school finance, where an alphabet soup of federal relief funds (ESSER and ARP and GEER...oh my!) have made shifting budgets an expectation rather than an aberration. To get the most out of these temporary funding streams, earmark the expenditures that will draw from them as early as possible in your budgeting process. This way, teams can avoid the extensive manual work that comes with reassigning transactions after the fact, and leaders will have a clearer strategy for the intended use of these funds.
2. Collaborate with HR to make staffing models more resilient to disruption.
Across the country, staffing continues to be a pain point for HR leaders and school sites alike. School site employees report a rotating cast of teachers and administrators covering classes (draining their own planning time) due to a lack of substitutes, and districts are paying out pricey bonuses to lure bus drivers onto their routes. Many schools have suffered severe shortages as a result of the spreading omicron variant, with some districts even cancelling school due to lack of personnel Collaborating early and often with HR will help finance teams model the most effective ways to attract subs, bus drivers, food service workers, and paraprofessionals with incentives in this strong worker's market.
Consider creative and flexible compensation models to retain and attract high quality teachers, leaders, and support staff. As detailed in this Edunomics Lab brief, some school districts are opting for flat dollar (as opposed to percentage) raises, in order to equally compensate for the disruption both lower-paid novices and higher-paid veterans have faced during the pandemic. Others are offering relocation stipends and extra-duty pay in exchange for 30 additional instructional minutes each day. Strategizing with HR will help your organization find the right solution for your unique context.
3. Create a broader range of financial scenarios than normal.
The Omicron variant is spreading rapidly, to the point where some districts are once again shutting down in the face of record-shattering case numbers. President Biden's flagship Build Back Better bill, structured to support initiatives such as teacher training, educator retention programs, and school nutrition, seemed doomed for failure as of late December, but may yet pass in some altered form. Finally, enrollment in public school districts from San Francisco to DC lost students when schools went remote, and it remains to be seen if they'll see pre-COVID enrollment numbers in the coming fiscal year. With all of these "if-then" situations in play, creating more revenue, expense, and enrollment scenarios than in a typical year is wise. By having models with a range of assumptions for income, spending, and students, your team can be prepared for the worst (while hoping for the best) from situations out of your control.
4. Increase collaboration between the central administration and site leadership.
In many public school districts, unions and central administrators collaborate and negotiate on school finance matters relating to salary, benefits, and retirement. However, the same collaboration is rarer between school site administrators — those closer to students and most in tune with their needs — and central office leaders. By having more structured and transparent communication pathways, leaders at both the central and school level can build trust, minimize communication setbacks, and better balance the needs of individual sites with the organization as a whole. No matter the size of the school system, this increased collaboration will promote more effective and equitable spending on priorities for students and staff.
5. Create transparency around how funds will advance strategic goals, whether academic, SEL, or others.
Far too often, K12 education stakeholders see finance as opaque and disconnected from the learning priorities they have for students, a dynamic that remains unchanged as new COVID variants slowly work their way through the Greek alphabet. Creating a transparent way for these stakeholders (including parents, teachers, and students) to understand how budgetary choices are tied to the goals you have as a district can boost community engagement while also giving your team a "head-start" in federal reporting requirements for COVID relief funds: rather than rushing to gather and organize information before each reporting interval, your data of spending and outcomes will be “good-to-go” already. If leaders can't connect a line item back to a specific, worthwhile goal, it may also be a sign that there are other ways to use those funds more strategically. Ultimately, an explicit alignment of how each dollar will benefit safety, support, and quality instruction is a critical lever in turning your vision into reality.
Edstruments was founded to help public school systems including both traditional school districts and charter schools make the most of their resources on behalf of students. We work with leaders in all roles to empower their decision-making, utilizing principles like those written about in this article. Increase your collaboration, plan multiple scenarios with ease, and deploy your dollars more strategically. Interested in learning more? Reach out to our team at firstname.lastname@example.org today!