How can we best utilize school resources to maximize student learning outcomes?
Balancing the budget
Lincoln High School started out $46, 516 in the red. It was important to us that we not cut services to teachers, so we looked first to the "luxury" areas of the budget and ways we could increase revenue that would be preferable to laying off teachers.
1. We wanted to be realistic with ADA so adjusted our attendance rate down to 96% from 96.8%. Although our school is ideally suited for 380 students, that's only 23-24 per grade level. Last year's budget was for 400, and we decided we would rather have 408 students (26 per class in 9th and 10th grade) than let teachers go.
These adjustments: 2,203,168 --> 2, 228, 659 = 25, 491 in additional funds.
2. We had a half time (.50) math/science teacher leave, so increased two .75 math/science teachers to full time. We also eliminated the Summer Bridge program after weighing the benefits: we felt a Freshman Foundations week to orient and bond the new students the first week of school would be a more affordable use of funds. $1000 was budgeted for this in Supplies & Other.
These adjustments: 1,823,695 --> 1,802,338 = 21,357 in additional funds.
3. We compared the last budget to the Expenses through 12/31/10 to help us adjust Supplies & Other. Some categories needed to be increased: books, equipment and furnishings, SELPA instructional services, and bus passes were all increased. Areas that were decreased included:
a. materials and supplies: 52,000 --> 42,743
We felt teachers would prefer to be frugal with supplies than lose employees or increase the class sizes further.
b. instructional services: 8,500 --> 6,000
Based on the 12/31 expenses, it had been over budgeted.
c. professional development: 3,720 --> 1,000
Although the budget was already over for the 12/31 expenses, our goal is to streamline professional development as much as possible next year, for example, cutting retreats or food services. This would be an area that we could rebuild as finances recover.
d. auditing and legal: 8,500 --> 7,000
Based on the 12/31 expenses, it had been over budgeted.
e. student travel and field trips: 20,000 --> 3,000
This was a sad area to cut as student trips and travel are a huge bonus to our students and our curriculum. However, we felt that it was acceptable to increase fundraising efforts, or look for more cost efficient trips, than to cut teachers or necessary services. The 3,000 would be a reserve for student scholarships in hopes that as many students as possible would still be able to participate. Again, this is an area that would be rebuilt as finances recover.
Lastly, as previously mentioned, we added a 1,000 stipend for the freshmen teachers to fund a Freshman Foundations week the first week of school. The money would go towards materials or activities for this first week's program.
These adjustments: 1,078,908 --> 1,084,370 = 5,462 in additional expenses
OVERALL, we balanced our budget with $0 Available Resources
I really enjoyed the group conversation as team members had different insights and experiences (like Brian suggesting the Freshman Foundations option). We did struggle with the decision to cut field trips and increase expenses elsewhere, but I felt that we needed to be realistic based on the 12/31 Expenses. For example, last year no money was budgeted for books or equipment/furnishings but by 12/31 $16,000 had already been spent. It seems unfair to students to think there will be money for trips and travel if the money really needs to be spent on classroom equipment. Fundraising to buy books or furnishings seems strange compared to fundraising for trips and travel. I also feel that, as the finances improve, adding money to trips and travel is a bonus rather than having to spend the money to buy or replace books or furnishings we really should have had all along. The same goes for professional development. Adding back retreats or catering is a wonderful luxury to look forward to!
After hearing from the teacher panel and from directors, I can see that having too much transparency/voice in the budgeting process could quickly turn poisonous. I liked the suggestion Melissa offered: the budget is the director's decision, but the reasoning should be explained. Money for specific items or activities like buying new technology or planning Freshman Foundations should be spent with teachers' input. The goal is to help staff understand the decisions and to give them a chance to voice how they would like money to be spent without creating competition or devaluing someone's ideas/position.
After seeing the budget builder, I had a new appreciation for all the demands put on our budget. Many things I had never considered (cost of bus passes) nor knew how expensive they were (phone and internet). I think it would be interesting to share the budget with staff at the end of a school year, minus the salary page. I would invite staff feedback on areas they feel we could trim (for example, my school seems to go through a TON of photocopies for ineffective worksheets--can we change this?) or input on areas we overspent on (is there a valid reason? does the budget need to be adjusted or do we need to be more accountable?). I also think seeing the budget would help teachers feel invested in recruiting and maintaining students! Ultimately, however, I think the final budget is up to the Director.
First of all, the best bonus is being invited to teach again the next year. This is only an option when the tenure system is eliminated. Secondly, there is no way to evaluate an employee without elements of bias and extreme objectivism. If the salary is based purely on years education, experience, and credits, it is too objective. If it is based purely on evaluations by administrators, peers, students, whomever, it is too susceptible to bias or favoritism. A hybrid may aim to pull the best of both options, but will still contain negative elements of each.
Base Salary: Start with a base salary scale according to years experience and education. I would start with a higher base salary in hopes of attracting talented teachers to begin with and trade that off for a lower ceiling the right side of the payscale. The first years of teaching were some of my hardest and I don’t see why teachers shouldn’t make more at the beginning in exchange for more later. Ultimately, the total money earned would be the same. I liked the tiered idea from the New School Venture Fund and would create something similar. I presume that each tier correlates to a pay increase. Within each tier, there would be minimal pay differences to acknowledge experience/education. Possible tiers:
Teacher--works under the guidance of a Partner, emerging skills, few responsibilities outside of classroom
Partner--works to guide a Teacher or another Partner, mid-level skills, some responsibilities outside of classroom
Mentor--works with Partners and Teachers to support skills, responsibilities outside of classroom
Lead--works with Mentors, Partners, and Teachers (may be a Mentor too) to develop staff-wide skills, departmental/grade level strategies, responsibilities may be more outside the classroom than in
Administrator--works with all to develop skills, responsibilities all or nearly all outside the classroom
Bonus Salary: As a team, determine the goals/expectations of staff at each tier. Some will be objective: attendance at required meetings, student evaluations/grades submitted on time; others will be subjective: classroom environment, communication skills. In my ideal, these goals/expectations would be the basis for ongoing support throughout the year so that all employees could improve and progress in their proficiency as a teacher/leader. The quarterly assessment would include a combination of administrator, student/parent, peer, and teacher self-assessments. The tiered system is designed around teacher support so these evaluations would immediately inform and support teachers in meeting their goals. At the end of the year, bonuses would be awarded based on the quarterly feedback. When budgeting, assume all teachers will earn their maximum bonus.