THE BUSINESS OF EDUCATION
Updated: Mar 22, 2018
Superintendents alone possess the positional authority to access the power domains of the Board of Education, central staff, principals, teacher associations, parental groups, community groups, and local and state governmental structure. With the landscape of school finance shifted dramatically under the LCFF, a superintendent’s ability to build trust among stakeholders is a key element to make certain the budget-building process is a public activity that has the superintendent’s fingerprints all over it.
The social aspects of school district harmony and climate dictate transparency. I consider my primary responsibility, as a superintendent in the budget process, is to be steadfast, unbiased, and goal-focused to both ensure responsible practices in handling public monies, and to keep the district moving toward the realization of the Board’s vision for student achievement.
For example, among the current initiatives that has stretched resources, expanded the learning environment, and improved learning designs and results is the increased use of technology as a learning, teaching, and communications tool.
A common position in today's high technology environment is Coordinator of Education Technology. I consider it part of a comprehensive professional learning/support system. Training teachers on using the newest technologies to engage students, personalize learning, improve college and career ready instruction, and work smarter should be a funding priority. Google docs, for example, should be used system-wide.
I was privileged to be deeply involved in the budget process throughout my career. As the facilitator of the Local Control and Accountability Plan, I established the timeline for approval, gathered input and advice from required advisory committees, responded to the committees, held public hearings, hosted opportunities for public inspection, and worked closely with the Board of Education, Chief Business Officer, and the Human Resource team to ensure fiscal, material, human, and educational resources were aligned. I had the opportunity to work closely with all stakeholders from the ground floor up, including fiscal managers to establish account strings to track expenditures and ensure compliance with state regulations. As a principal for 17 years I clearly understand the site budgeting process and the impact that budget decisions made at the district level have on schools. My extensive site experience, district-level experience, and contract negotiating experience provided me with a unique lens to examine educational business, finance, and budgets from multiple perspectives.
Education leaders are well served by spending a lot of time as a principal. There should be no rush to the district office - the "work" is done at the site level. Spend the time necessary to understand it inside and out. Supporting that "work" becomes much easier.
There are many challenges in urban districts related to developing the assumptions for a current budget year, let alone multiyear projections, given the high rate of mobility and external threats such as charter schools. I have found that the success of the process is directly proportional to the quality of the financial analysis, both revenue and expenditures, to validate the budget assumptions. Close collaboration with department and site representatives is crucial. The same could be said for other business functions, including audit requirements, bidding requirements (construction and otherwise) found in public contract code, instructional minutes and other matters found in Ed Code, and compliance with Federal, State and local government regulations, and District policies.
As a principal I managed schools through a variety of construction projects. In my current role, I have worked closely with architects, construction management teams, and site stakeholders through master planning and all stages of design and construction of a 200 million dollar 21st Century Schools and Classrooms project. In addition to bond funds, funding streams including the Emergency Repair Program, Overcrowding Relief Grant, Seismic, E-Rate and Prop 39 were all utilized to build facilities flexible enough to adapt to the changing needs of the modern school. I also have experience with a Local Classrooms Funding Authority, Local Public Schools Funding Authority, and Joint Powers Agreement (JPA), which currently serves as the taxing authority for the Measure CL parcel tax, which provided approximately $9.5 million annually to the five school districts in the JPA.
One of the main responsibilities of the Superintendent is to work closely with board members to maintain financial accountability of the district. As trustees of the organization’s assets, Board members must have confidence that the Superintendent is exercising appropriate oversight and that its financial situation remains sound. Operational procedures such as control mechanisms, clarity in job descriptions and responsibilities, well defined financial and accounting procedures (signing checks, handling of cash, approving expenses, outlining parameters for credit card usage), policies to prevent potential conflicts of interest, and regular external audits are all manifestations of fiduciary responsibility that ultimately rests with the Board, but are entrusted with the Superintendent.