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Smart School Budgeting: Continuing the Conversation

As reported last week in this blog, the Rennie Center recently held the event, "Smart School Budgeting: How Districts can Efficiently Use Resources to Provide a Quality Education for All Students." Boston Public Schools CFO, John McDonough sat on a panel to discuss some common issues regarding school and district finance. We asked if we could share the responses he prepared to two of the questions asked from the panel members. There’s so much to learn from his experience.

Why is the conversation about changing school finance practices relevant in the larger education reform agenda?

It's relevant because the budget is a value statement, and resource allocation can be a powerful lever for change. We know that resources are limited, and what you invest in reflects the values of your school district, and that how well you manage those resources provides a foundation for public confidence and support for further investment.

The stakes for our students are too high: each day that goes by without intentional investment in ensuring an excellent teacher is in every classroom and that each school is led by an awesome leader is a day that is lost for our students. Arne Duncan has suggested that education is the civil rights issue of our generation. Our finance practices have the potential to bring life to that vision.

Given the lack of clear markers on how school spending can directly impact student achievement, what steps would you recommend for districts to produce higher levels of performance using current resources?

There are four key actions that districts should keep in mind:

  • Broaden the definition of resources. It's about people, time and money. How you build your team, schedule your classes and align your money very tightly to your strategic plan (school or district) matters.
  • Be informed by data. Make sure that you're solving the right problem. Make sure that assessments are used to modify and inform instruction.
  • Allow for differentiated strategies based on an assessment of strengths and weaknesses.
  • Provide clarity of purpose, consistency in expectations, accountability for results and a level of autonomy for how you get there.
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