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Is your district’s school planning process setting up your schools for success?

Cleveland Metropolitan School District and Six Principles to Improve Your Process Now

Cleveland used its transition to Student Based Budgeting (SBB) as an opportunity to redesign its school planning process in a far more integrated and strategic way. It combined tools for school academic planning, budgeting, and staffing. It created cross-functional network teams to provide integrated support. To accelerate teacher hiring, Cleveland principals now begin the school planning process in January, finalizing budgets in late spring. Check out their new planning process and read below how they tackled the challenge of strategic school planning.


In too many school systems across the country, decisions over how schools should improve and how resources (time, people and money) should be allocated are highly disconnected. Enrollment projections and the allocation process can start as early as October, meaning a district has to commit to next year’s plan before it can assess the strengths and weaknesses of the current year’s strategy.

Principals must manage a number of concurrent work streams and consult with up to six central office teams, leaving little time or capacity for integrated planning across the many departments. See box to the side for examples of challenges.

Changing resource deployment in the context of a typical school planning process can be a long and arduous process. Therefore, ERS and the Aspen Institute brought together the CFO/Strategy Network, teams of CFOs and Chief HR Officers from almost a dozen top urban school districts, to reflect on their school planning processes and identify opportunities for improvement. The following six principles form a guide for an effective school planning process that emerged from those conversations. 

Challenging Scenarios:

  • Districts support schools in setting goals for strategic resource use, but if allocations have already been released, investing in new initiatives can seem impossible. (Principle #1)
  • Districts commit to using student-level data in their planning process, but the most recent data doesn’t become available until after school leaders commit to their schedules for the following year. (Principle #2)
  • Districts increase transparency by releasing allocations as they become available, but this can lead to a fragmented process that actually inhibits a school leader’s ability to make fully informed decisions. (Principle #3)
  • Districts have time-consuming seniority-based transfer process, which can postpone external hiring to as late as August, when the most competitive candidates have taken other jobs. (Principle #4)

What are key indicators of a good school planning process?

1. Performance goals and improvement priorities are determined in advance of the budget and allocation process
  • School planning teams set preliminary goals and priorities in advance of receiving allocations so that school leaders can strategically determine tradeoffs according to their priorities, even if performance data is incomplete.
2. Integrated data and tools help answer strategic resource questions and compare past performance and resource use to other schools in their district
  • School planning teams have access to school-level data to inform priority setting and school design, which are utilized in tools that help them develop a school plan.
  • Data and tools are integrated across planning areas (budget, staffing, and scheduling).
  • Data and tools enable the district to aggregate information across schools in order to provide effective support (budget and human resource departments have visibility into school plans), monitor progress, and engage in continuous improvement of the school planning process.
  • The district provides a template of strategic questions for principal supervisors to ask of decision makers along with the relevant data to answer the questions based on past performance. ERS’ Data Decisions Briefs series provides examples of key data points that district and school leaders can consult to ensure that students get equitable access to great teachers and enough time to learn, and that teachers get the support they need.
3. Resource allocations are distributed concurrently
  • School planning teams receive school allotments of discretionary resources at one time (or in as few fragmented times as possible).
  • School planning teams are informed of non-discretionary resources when they are planning discretionary resources.
  • Central departments are transparent with schools about potential drivers of future changes to funding and provide estimates and guidelines where possible to enable advance planning.
  4. Staffing timelines are early enough to enable the hiring of competitive candidates
  • The district hiring process prepares a pipeline of competitive candidates for all schools in advance of the hiring cycle.
  • School planning teams are able to make decisions on internal candidates early enough to take advantage of the district pipeline for external hires.
5. Each step of the process has a clear and appropriate decision maker
  • The district outlines the full set of decisions in the process and maps each to an appropriate decision maker who:
    • Understands their role in the process and how they will be held accountable.
    • Has the resources and ability to make strategic decisions.
    • The decision-making authority is based on the district’s theory of action on autonomy and flexibility.
6. Adequate time is allocated for making decisions, and support is provided according to the experience of the decision maker
  • School planning teams have sufficient time to iterate on plans as they receive information about resources at their school before final decisions must be made.
  • School planning teams receive cross-functional and differentiated support focused on meeting the specific needs of the decision makers throughout iterations of their school plans.
  • Cross-functional supports share a common vision for a strategic school plan and how to provide guidance in creating a strategic school plan.

So what can your team do now to get ready for SY 16-17? Use this document’s six principles as a rubric for your team to find quick wins for this upcoming cycle and identify longer term process adjustments your district needs to make to have an integrated and strategic school planning process. 






Is your district’s school planning process setting up your schools for success?
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