The Key to Budget Season Success

Posted by Matt Berringer on February 18, 2014

CaptureBudget season is here. Administrators in districts all across the country are studying their bottom line, prioritizing programs, and deciding how resources will be allocated for next school year.

School budgets are not only a plan for how to spend public funds but also a way to prioritize programs and ultimately achieve the mission and vision of a district. In general, schools spend money on these and many other categories:

  • Transportation
  • Facilities
  • Energy
  • Health and Safety
  • Instruction
  • Curriculum and Staff Development
  • Food Services
  • Library Services
  • Counseling Services
  • School Leadership and Support

(Source: Round Rock Independent School District)

Almost every one of these categories includes an expense that makes up approximately 80-85 percent of a school’s budget: its staff. Compare that to most other public and private organizations and businesses, which spend about 35-40 percent of their revenue on employees and benefits, and it’s clear that schools must budget judiciously for needed positions.

Estimating Staff Costs
Staff salaries and benefits eat up the vast majority of a district’s general fund. That’s why it’s important to carefully study and accurately estimate how many teachers, administrators, and classified staff are needed for the next school year.

The first step toward creating an accurate staffing plan is to estimate a school’s or district’s student population. Once a school has an estimated student headcount, it can plan for the number of teachers and other staff needed to educate those students, based on ideal class sizes and the preparation time for which teachers are paid.

Then, a school must consider any special programs it offers that may require additional staffing, such as teachers on special assignments. Career and technical programs, extra-curricular programs, tutoring, and summer programs could all fall into this category.

The number of administrative and service staff, such as vice principals and counselors, employed at each school may vary from year to year, depending on the student population count. Some districts use set formulas to adjust staffing based upon student estimates.

Finally, each school must plan for a number of classified staff. These are the administrative assistants, clerks, custodial and maintenance staff, and food service employees who help keep the school running.

Conservative Budgeting
Conservative student headcount estimates will lead to conservative staffing. While this could cause a last-minute hiring scramble when a few unexpected students show up for school, it also will prevent overstaffing. Overstaffing can pose severe financial challenges to a district, and school officials must ensure that they are fiscally responsible and able to meet the district’s financial obligations.

A school budget is a plan. Unexpected costs and adjustments may need to be made throughout the year and from school year to school year. Careful planning, though, can help a district ensure it is meeting its educational goals and striving to achieve its overall mission and vision.

Topics: education, K-12