Understanding A School Budget By Bob Morrison

Typically, most arts teachers along with other advocates and concerned parents are shocked when they learn that programs in music/arts programs are in jeopardy due to budget cutbacks. Well, they shouldn’t be! Those who are surprised by budget reductions are either unaware of or have not tracked the year-long process that school districts go through to build a budget.
As part of our responsibility as concerned citizens and parents, we need to monitor what is happening. By becoming involved early in the cycle, the budget outcome will never be a surprise. By monitoring the following five step process you may ensure there are no surprises.
Step one in most school districts, is initialed by a top executive, usually the superintendent, or the chief business officer. Under that person’s leadership, district employees assigned to budget development spend much of the year gathering data, selecting from available options, and making recommendations. Their final product is then submitted to the school board. They make amendments ad deemed necessary, and then approve a final budget.
Two documents may be available during this early portion of the five-step budget process. The first would be the “assumption statement” which will set forth key assumptions and formulas to be used in the development of the budget. The second document is a calendar of major steps in their budget process. If the school district doesn’t actually publish a calendar, very likely, the person in change can provide information on the budget timetable.
It needs to be pointed out that during this early part of the budget process, people monitoring the budget process should make it their business to get to know board members, and learn “how they stand on music and arts education.” Also, board members should be invited to attend concerts and other events during the year. They should be introduced at these events and asked to make comments when appropriate. They shouldn’t be strangers.
Step two in the process is the presentation of the budget or summary of its major elements to the school board. Usually, the board receives it only days or a few weeks before it is officially released to the public.
Step three in the process is the publishing and public viewing of the budget. Again, this usually occurs relatively late in the budget process. And, typically, there are only a few weeks to read it, ask questions and propose changes.
Step four begins with public hearings. The school board holds one or more public hearings, soliciting citizen comments on the budget–once it’s gone this far it’s difficult to make changes.
The fifth and final step is budget adoption and funding approval. After the public hearings, the board adopts a budget with whatever amendments it deems necessary.
It takes time and energy to master a local school budget. Before you begin, we suggest that you acquire review online resources to help understand the school budget process. It will help you strategize and minimize wasted efforts.
Note: This article is an adaptation of the work of the late Karl Bruhn, longtime music and arts education advocate

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