Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Questions to ask your school business officer (Mass Association of School Committees conference)

posting (as I can) as we go...I'm on this one! For those asking, the Worcester Public Schools FY16 budget is online here.

How does the budget work?
Himmelberger: school budgets serve key purposes: let everyone know where money is being allocated, to manage the spending through the year to keep track of where we have room to move
"so many things that impact the school budget throughout the year"
factors that increase or decrease the budget over the year
"at least take that 'must be stealing' line off the table"
Allen: your budget isn't an administrative playbook
"a community sharing of information about your school budget"
it's MORE than printout of MUNIS and a PowerPoint presentation
explains enrollment, explains trends, explains how resources are tied into the decisions that are being made
more narrative than numbers
intent is to inform the school committee of the decisions they need to make

Novick: pie chart of where the money comes from and where the money goes
how is the money spent
And then how are money changes made over the course of the year?

Q: are there leading questions we can use to create the narrative?
ASBO: Meritorious Budget...does provide what information should be included in a budget document?
Q: highest per capita tax rates on a regional school committee: don't believe we have any kind of a book whatsoever...budget in an Excel spreadsheet online...trying to create something like a budget book? Go to MASBO?
what sort of time does it take?
Years...adding over time, does seem some progress
School Committee lays out what they're looking for, administration then pulls together within those parameters

Start with executive summary, changes from last year, projections of what will change, what that looks like moving ahead
how the foundation budget works (if that impacts your district), or whatever other calculations feed into your budget, particularly if any are outstanding when your budget is voted

what level of budgetary control goes to school committee?
budgetary categories, transfer between and among categories
grants spelled out clearly

when do school committees join in planning? happening during quarterly reports

most districts have a subcommittee for budget or finance

 projections: can you plug these into software? what are assumptions? much that's complicated
should be included in budget, changes over time

what's the advantage of a budget book?
budget book really needs to be the record for the school district of the budget recommendations that are being evaluated for the school district
(PowerPoint is a tool, but not enough)

structure of finance office? how to work with municipal side?
takes a lot of cooperation and planning: handling workers comp and health insurance
still have interaction with town office
"depending upon the municipality it can work"
...but would question motivation, and make sure that everyone is actually on board

when does school committee come in on budgeting?
setting priorities as part of the early process
does school committee meet with each individual section? not in Worcester...available for questions or presentations, meetings internally in admin

should you have combinations of school business officials and other things?
"$53M is no small chunk of chain...hiring the custodian of those funds"

heard a lot about zero based budgeting?
start from zero and build that budget back up from ground floor (not starting with this year)
teacher assignment based on elementary enrollment guidelines and secondary course selections

revolving accounts? School Committees statutorially approve all grants
"we're showing all funding sources within the budget document...and then how those dollars are being spent"
different revolving funds have different legal processes: DESE puts out a revolving fund chart (which I'll see if I can find)

learn from other communities (and what might be going wrong)
auditors: are you seeing the audits, are you seeing the auditor?
you should be!

School choice: should be space available, cost neutral
some communities supplementing additional staff: how does school committee figure that out?
"if you were to lose all your school choice students, what would the impact be?"
cost dropping and how much is this really affecting us?

advocacy: school committees due to sheer number are successful in advocacy at state level
Worcester cited by name in foundation budget report because we provided numbers
"don't underestimate the value of having a number when you're proposing something"

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