Why District Officials Need to Up Their Budget Game Now for 2020 — and Beyond

A new Education Week article shines a spotlight on the battle over state budget surpluses

If January and February are any indication, 2019 promises to be another volatile year for school districts as teachers nationwide hit the streets to demand raises and other benefits. Last month, tens of thousands of Los Angeles teachers kicked things off, marching downtown and picketing for six school days before reaching a deal with officials. Two weeks ago, Denver public school teachers went on strike for the first time in 25 years. And, this week, teachers in Oakland, CA headed back to the picket line demanding  smaller classes and better pay.

This all occurs on the heels of the grassroots “Red for Ed” movement that began in Arizona and quickly gained traction last year, and it shows no sign of slowing anytime soon. Now, new analysis conducted by Education Week points to budget surpluses in more than half the states across the country. But the question is, will states opt to dole out big dollars for education or err on the side of caution and tuck money away for a rainy day?

If you’re a district leader, now’s a good time to bring your A-game to the budget negotiations table. 

If you’re a district leader, now’s a good time to bring your A-game to the budget negotiations table. The clearer you can make your case to committee, council, executive board, teachers, parent groups, and the public at large the better position you’ll be in to procure the funding you need to improve outcomes.

One way to do that is to invest in tools that tell your budget story in the clearest possible way for both internal and external stakeholders. For example, rather than cobbling together spreadsheets and printouts to justify your requests, consider a more visual strategy that lays out all your data (not just the line items, but the trends, demographics, and enrollment numbers that back up your requests) in a way that’s easy for everyone to understand.

ClearGov Budgets includes access to historical trends, forecasted projections, and simple charts to help inform both short- and long-term budget impacts. You can even create multiple budgets to easily and quickly compare various what-if scenarios. Additionally, ClearGov dynamically generates easy-to-understand graphics as you go, so you can identify at a glance areas that are consistently under or over budget. This is precisely the kind of visualization that can help you effectively gauge the impact of today’s adjustments on tomorrow’s revenues and expenditures — and make smarter, evidence-based decisions for your district.

With tools like ClearGov, you also have the ability to compare your district’s data to others with similar enrollments or that serve similar student populations. Traditionally, benchmarking analyses like these can be prohibitively expensive and time-consuming to conduct, but ClearGov automates the process making it easy for you to identify relevant peer groups so you can quickly see how your district stacks up on any given line item. That’s valuable intelligence you can use to build your case for increasing or decreasing your spend in key areas.

Once your budget is final, you can even publish it to your ClearGov transparency site with the click of a button. And, there are numerous reasons to make your district’s fiscal data accessible to the public. Among the chief reasons to consider posting budget actuals to your public-facing profile is to build community consensus. An informed electorate can be your biggest asset, generating the support you need to nudge state officials to act on your behalf. According to a recent poll released by Loyola Marymount University, the overwhelming majority of Los Angeles residents — nearly 90 percent — supported the recent teachers strike. It’s always better when the public’s got your back.

Understandably, budgeting for new business tools often takes a back seat to curriculum, instruction, and building upgrades. But in this case, your ability to budget accurately and forecast with precision is an essential means to a critical end. And, a very modest investment in smart, cloud-based solutions may just help you build a more compelling argument to persuade local legislators to fund the initiatives that matter most to your community. These tools also serve to get school executives working off the same page and more efficiently so you can spend more time on budget strategy and less time scrambling to pull the numbers together. In the end, it’s all about funding better outcomes and the best way to ensure that is to make sure everyone understands exactly what’s on the table.


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