This exercise is about aligning your school’s resources to your most urgent needs, while making deciding on what is important and making the necessary trade-offs to meet your budget. achieve your instructional goals in the context of budget tightening. We have found that the game format enables district school leaders and others to step outside of the constraints of their day to day decision-making to look at program and budget choices in a new and more integrated way to meet student performance needs. The lessons can then be applied to transform their own district strategic budgeting process.
It's best to start by articulating your priorities. What are your students’ and teachers’ most urgent needs? What items and programs should be fully funded and protected from cuts? What are programs that have been less effective, and able to be deprioritized? Where are your particular needs? Do you want to make sure you improve your teaching staff? Or does your district need to improve technology? There are many different hands to play and they can all be good. You need to determine what's right for you now and then make the difficult trade-offs to start making that vision a reality.
The percentages are "educated estimates" of school-born costs based on ERS' work over the past 15 years with urban districts and national research. They are meant to give you an idea of the relative impact that different decisions will have on a typical district school budget. Obviously, the real numbers for your district school will vary. But don't let that stop you. Suspend your disbelief for a moment, because the real value of the game is helping you and your colleagues think in new ways about the challenges and opportunities you face.
To help school leaders understand the typical school context for the exercise, ERS has created case studies for schools at different levels (Elementary, Middle, and High School). The case studies outline typical priorities, challenges, and resource flexibilities at the school level, and help to frame the relative magnitude of savings and investments, and their potential impact on student outcomes. These case studies may not resonate with all school leaders, but we hope they provide enough “real world” context to play the game—and don’t be afraid to use some Wild Cards to match your own school’s options!
ERS' School Designer is the online hub for an online resource for school leaders to explore ERS’s school design framework and curriculum, which guides principals and those who support them through the strategic planning at the school level. School Designer houses many open-source resources for school leaders to learn more about the six essentials for strategic school design, including in-depth profiles of evidence-based strategies that the types of building blocks, or strategies, that effective schools use to organize their resources. ERS also works directly with schools through our school cohort work, providing 1:1 coaching to school leaders on the school design process and facilitating strategic decision-making throughout the school planning and budgeting process. This work complements the support we provide at the system level to help ensure a district has the right enabling conditions in place to support strategic designs at scale.
School leaders often do not have the time or support needed to strategically redesign their school. This exercise can help school leaders to:
Our hope is that this exercise will help to reframe your budget process from simply cutting to meet your bottom line to creating a list of priorities and making tough trade-offs to get there. You are going to have to cut and make difficult decisions. But at least when you're finished you will be making choices that lead you to investing in long-term and short-term improvements.
ERS has used various versions of this game with some of our district partners and a cross-district network of CFOs and CAOs. We are making this more broadly available based on feedback from these districts on how it helped them to approach strategic budgeting decisions. Baltimore City Schools and School District of Palm Beach County Duval County and Rochester leadership used versions of this game in with a large group of principals a group to think through more strategic school designs in 2015. tough budget decisions in 2010. In addition, ERS used School Budget Hold‘Em during its Budget Partners Training to introduce central office finance staff to the decisions that school leaders have to make in the name of student improvement. the Memphis CFO adapted a version of it for a very successful leadership team budget strategy offsite. Read about it here. This is the first online version so we're just learning how it can be helpful. If you have suggestions or comments, please let us know!
The more than 50 cards addressing the six essentials of strategic school design. affect teaching and leadership effectiveness, time and attention, operational efficiency, and more. Investment estimates range from 0% to as much as 152.0% of the budget. Savings cards can yield from as little as .1% reduction in the overall budget to as much as 25.0%.
Some cards are easy to implement. Other cards require changing legislation, contracts, and the mindsets of key stake-holders. Although controversial, these actions are possible and have been taken by actual districtsschools to improve student performance. Your own district's school’s priorities and needs should drive the choices worth seriously considering, regardless of the obstacles.
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School Budget Hold'em is funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Carnegie Corporation of New York. Complete list of ERS funders »