December 25, 2020

Multi-Year School Budgeting (Part 2 of 3)

The Principals’ Corner:

So let’s continue my story on the three-year budget initiative from last week’s blog.  As I said, there were to be two budgets: the “Major Purchase Year Budget” once in three years for 1/3 of the departments and the “Maintenance Budget” every year for all departments (including those on their “Major Purchase Year”).

Here’s the way the arithmetic had to work (and remember, I was an English teacher with serious arithmetical challenges!):

  1. Each year the total of all “Maintenance Budgets” had to equal no more than 2/3 of the total budget.
  2. That left 1/3 of the budget “surplus” each year.
  3. That 1/3 was then deployed to the departments that were on their “Major Purchase Year Budget.”
  4. That 1/3 represented a considerable “chunk of change.”  The schedule of who was on what year of the cycle had to be carefully managed.  For instance, traditionally Science, English and Physical Education/Athletics were big budget spenders and could not be in the same year.  I proposed that each of these three departments not be in the same year.

The next task was to determine which of the less expensive departments – Drama, Business, History, Languages, Geography, Special Education Technological Studies Art, Music and Guidance could be spaced out over the three years to ensure that we would not be over in allocations for any year.  Included in the smaller departments, by the way, was “Administration” for which I was the budget holder – and like everyone else, I would have to get by on a “Maintenance Budget” for two years but would have a “Major Purchase Budget” for one of those three years like everyone else. 

The most important consideration here:  I was telling them what the budget looked like.  It was the first time that the heads were ever shown either what the “office” budget was or what the whole school budget was.  In the case of the latter, I simply reproduced the budget sent to our school and gave the department heads and coordinators copies following one of my deeply held beliefs – the principle of full disclosure.

All they had to do for the next meeting was to give me a legitimate estimate on their “Maintenance Year Budget” and we could see if the arithmetic would work out.  I thought we were home free – until the supposed “Maintenance Budgets” came in – and I was totally surprised.

That is when I learned an important lesson about managing change, one that I kept in mind over the years as a senior administrator in a large district.  The lesson was this:

If you think that logic will carry the day, you are naive (as I was).  I assumed that the simple statement of a mathematical formula would be enough to convince everyone about the efficacy of the process.  What I didn’t realize was that there was, out there, a critical mass of emotion (skepticism, fear, lack of trust) – and the list goes on – that blocks the analysis and interpretation of what seemed to me a very simple, logical and, therefore, acceptable solution.  I was dead wrong.

But that’s the subject of the next and final blog on “The Three-Year Budget.”

Dr. Dan

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