Articles in the Budgeting category

What to do if you’re snowbound (and even if you’re not)

This past weekend was one for the record books for us in Washington, D.C. — a snow storm socked us with more than 20 inches of snow. Many of us are from colder areas (Pittsburgh, for me), but we’ve been here so long that we’ve acclimated to snow-less winters.

Schools and offices are closed all over the Washington, D.C., metro area and beyond. While we’ve been trying to come up with names for the big storm (Snowpocolypse, Snowmaggaden, and Snowtorious B.I.G.), yet another storm is fixing to dump yet another 10 to 20 inches on us.

For the snowbound, this is a perfect time to catch up on reading — and offers plenty of useful and thought-provoking articles to keep you occupied as the snow piles up. Read what schools can and can’t learn from business in our February issue. Also, find out how administrators and school leaders are coping with the stress of the down economy.

While you’re in an information-gathering mode, register for a free webinar on how to move your district into the next generation. ASBJ is partnering with Cisco on this webinar, which will be at 2 p.m. ET on Feb. 25 and will feature a seven-step process on how to assess where you are now and how to get where you need to go.  Go here to register.

Social networking? Then follow us on Twitter for updates, insights, and other items for school leaders and anyone interested in education.  Are you on Facebook? Become a fan of ASBJ here.

Interested in federal education policy and legislation? Read our coverage of NSBA’s Leadershiop and Federal Relations Network conferences at School Board News Today.

Happy reading — Spring will be here, soon.

Kathleen Vail, Managing Editor

Kathleen Vail|February 9th, 2010|Categories: American School Board Journal, Budgeting, Educational Technology, Governance, Multimedia and Webinars, NSBA Publications, School Climate, Wellness|

Time and money — do we really need more of them?




“Counterintuitive” is one of the “in” words of our time. It suggests (to use another overused term) an “outside-the-box” take on the world, an intellectual ability to go beyond the obvious and reach the unexpected, even outlandish, conclusion.

I must say, however, that I’m often skeptical of the skeptics and find that sometimes another expression — “If it walks like a duck …” — is more fitting.

Two illustrations: the first from last weekend’s Washington Post Magazine, the second from the winter issue of Education Next.

In Post magazine’s cover story, harried working mom Brigid Schulte (an admitted skeptic) explores the work of University of Maryland sociologist John Robinson, who says working women like her “have at least 30 hours of leisure time every week.” For the record, it turns out that when Schulte makes a record of her time, she does indeed have 28 leisure hours, but that includes “6.25 hours of watching movies and Saturday Night Live,” six hours of reading, and 5.4 hours “mucking around the computer.”

This doesn’t jibe with my experience. My wife and I are both working, with two young elementary school children, and I can tell you we don’t have time to watch half that much TV and movies, or read for six hours a week, or spend hours mucking around the computer. (Unless it crashes, in which case we don’t count that as “leisure.”)

Now, I don’t doubt professor Robinson’s sincerity. But consider that he is divorced and lives by himself, has made time to become a beer connoisseur, goes out to hear live music nearly every night, and even finds the time to make the cross-country trek to the countercultural Burning Man festival.


Kathleen Vail|January 19th, 2010|Categories: American School Board Journal, Budgeting, Governance|

New on

1109asbjlgDuring these difficult economic times, it’s no surprise that school districts have experienced a surge in the number of free and reduced priced meals it serves. As any food service director will tell you, however, balancing their budget on the subsidies the federal government provides is a tricky endeavor.

Though, as money columnist Charles Trainor writes, it gets even trickier if tight controls and oversight aren’t practiced in school food service departments. For more advice on how to achieve that, read Trainor’s latest installment, now available online for a limited time.

Naomi Dillon|November 19th, 2009|Categories: American School Board Journal, Budgeting, NSBA Publications|Tags: |

Pre-K spending increases

There’s one bright spot in this ongoing recession, and we’re not talking about the Dow breaking 10,200.  A new report from the advocacy group Pre [k] now says that, despite severe budget shortfalls, states have increased pre-k funding by more than $64 million.

“In light of the tough fiscal environment, the news for young children is surprisingly good,” writes Susan K. Urahn, managing director of The Pew Center on the States, Pre [k] now’s parent organization, in a letter accompanying the report.

Fifteen states increased pre-K  funding, and nine others and the District of Columbia expect spending increases through school funding formulas, the report says. Texas, which has a school funding formula, also saw a legislative increase.  Funding remained the same for six states. And just 10 state legislatures cut pre-K spending. (One state’s budget not completed in time for the report.)

Despite this relatively good news, the report criticizes states like Ohio, Michigan, and Illinois for cutting preschool funding. Those decisions “will cost thousands of young children the opportunity to enter kindergarten better prepared,” the report says. ” At the same time, rising unemployment and declining economic security mean families are even more in need of publically funded programs like quality early learning.”

The national economic picture might be slowly improving, but state budgets “are projected to get worse before they get better,” the report says. In such a climate, it might be easier, politically, to cut funding for poor children, who don’t vote and can’t match the lobbying power of wealthier and well-placed interest groups.  But to do so would hurt our nation’s long-term economic health and prevent thousands of disadvantaged children from reaching their potential.

Lawrence Hardy, Senior Editor

Kathleen Vail|November 10th, 2009|Categories: American School Board Journal, Assessment, Budgeting, Educational Research, Governance, Student Achievement|

Finding the green to go green


A few days ago I was asked to participate on a panel at a conference held by the U.S. Green Building Council, the people who certify schools and other buildings that are built with environmentally friendly principles. And as these things tend to go, I learned as much from the audience as they did from me.

Almost everyone told me they had tried to contact their school board members. What became clear after a few conversations was that school board members are often skeptical, and in this case, many either did not have a construction or renovation project in the works or did not see the need to learn about sustainable designs and practices.

But they should, we agreed: Building green has become a no-brainer for school districts. Green, or sustainable, school designs shouldn’t cost significantly more, and lower operating costs will ultimately save money. And perhaps most compelling is that there is a growing body of research that shows students and staff who spend their days in these school buildings are healthier, miss fewer days of school, and actually learn more.

Not to mention that these buildings have a minimal impact on their environment, and their features can be used as teaching tools.

One person told me about a presentation on green schools he’d given recently at a statewide meeting of school administrators. His show was hijacked, he said, by the school officials who had built green schools for their communities and wanted to convince the skeptics of those benefits.

What many people don’t realize is that you don’t even need to build a new school to take advantage of some of the best green designs. Most older buildings can be retrofitted with features like solar panels, energy-efficient windows that let in more daylight (one of the factors that has been linked with better student performance) and ventilation systems that allow better indoor air quality, a key factor in reducing flare-ups of asthma and other respiratory conditions.

Here at ASBJ, we want to help you learn about sustainable designs and how to incorporate those into both new buildings and renovations of existing facilities. Join us tomorrow, Sept. 24, at 2 p.m. EDT for a webinar  that will feature Rachel Gutter of the USGBC, who will explain the benefits of green, and John Gayetsky and Kathy Prosser, environmental specialists with the Association of School Business Officials International, who will explain how to use these principles to improve and maintain your facilities. We’ll even tell you how to find new sources of money to do so.

Joetta Sack-Min, Associate Editor

Kathleen Vail|September 23rd, 2009|Categories: American School Board Journal, Budgeting, Governance, Multimedia and Webinars, School Buildings, School Climate, Student Achievement|

Classroom supplies, increasingly a teacher’s responsibility

For weeks now, many of my friends have been combing through sale ads, scooping up deals for school supplies, and steadily checking off items from a long list of learning tools. Did I mention, most of these friends are teachers.

As the new school year gears up, the ritual of securing supplies for the classroom is in full swing— and falling more and more on teachers. For years, teachers have increasingly shouldered the cost of outfitting a functional and healthy learning environment, providing everything from tissues and hand sanitizers to paper and pens.

According to a National Education Association survey, teachers shell out on average $500 of their own money for classroom materials and supplies. But as districts continue to slash their budgets to adjust for falling state revenues and property taxes, that figure is likely increasing.

“We provide the bare essentials,” Mary Zarr, an assistant superintendent at Palatine School District 15 told the Chicago Tribune. “Anything that would not be considered an extreme necessity comes out of [the teacher's] pocket.”

Over at OfficeMax, which hosts an annual giveway of school supplies to 1,000 needy schools in the Chicago area, senior vice-president of marketing and and advertising, Bob Thacker, said teachers are the most impacted when schools have to curb costs. Married to a teacher, Thacker estimates his wife has probably spent well over $100,000 on school supplies over the course of her nearly 40 year career.

“I don’t know of any other profession that expects people to provide all of their own materials,” Thacker said. “Firemen don’t provide the firetrucks.”

Naomi Dillon, Senior Editor

Naomi Dillon|August 24th, 2009|Categories: American School Board Journal, Budgeting, Governance|

Shrinking school budgets could lead to shrinking waistlines for students

The nation’s struggling economy might just have revealed the solution to childhood obesity concerns: Make kids walk to school. It’s still too early to tell whether this hypothesis will prove true. But we’ll find out: More and more students will be walking to school this fall.

The economy is behind this promising shift in public health policy. As school budgets shrink in today’s economy, local school officials are cutting school bus routes and limiting bus service to students who live more than two miles from school.

Memphis is a perfect example. According to the city’s local newspaper, the Commercial Appeal, the Memphis Public Schools system has cut 40 percent of its school bus routes, spread bus stops farther apart, and told older students to start hoofing it this fall.

That’ll save the school system $6.5 million a year. But I wonder whether it’ll also lead to slimmer-if a bit sweatier-students showing up at school each day. We might be talking about a lot of pounds here. The Commercial Appeal reports the number of students riding a school bus dropped 5 percent nationally last year. By my estimates, that’s about 1.3 million kids.

So let’s do the math: If 1.3 million students start walking 2 miles a day, and if that burns off about 200 calories, that’s 260 million calories. If it takes 3,500 calories to burn off a pound of fat, then walking to school will burn off 37 tons a day. That’s the equivalent of walking off more than 1,800 40-pound kindergarteners.

Naomi Dillon|August 20th, 2009|Categories: American School Board Journal, Budgeting, Governance, Wellness|Tags: , , |

Simple steps lead to big savings for Nevada’s largest district

Warning: the actions of Nevada’s Clark County district will probably lead to a, “duh, why didn’t I think of that” moment.

In recent years the district has saved millions by turning off lights, appliances, air conditioning, and pretty much anything else that saps electricity while schools are closed. That’s something a lot of schools have been doing, as energy costs have risen and a growing awareness of the environmental impact has caused people to change their behaviors.

But Clark County has gone a step further— actually unplugging those appliances. It’s a small step that Dick Cuppert, the district’s energy manager, believes will save the district another $250,000 this summer, according to the Las Vegas Sun

Apparently, appliances like coffee pots or lamps still use a small amount of electricity when they are plugged in, and that miniscule usage adds up for a massive district like Clark County.

The district has a comprehensive energy savings program that includes simple steps such as installing motion-sensor light switches and cutting off lights in vending machines.

Naomi Dillon|July 8th, 2009|Categories: American School Board Journal, Budgeting, School Buildings|Tags: , , |

Cash incentive programs in Chicago may be hitting the dust

For anyone who’s read this blog consistently, which I’m sure all of you do, you know my feelings about cash incentive programs for students who get good grades, stellar test scores or have perfect attendance.

But in case you missed it, I’m of the opinion that exchanging money for student performance is misguided and sends the wrong message. Yes, supporters argue, such financial enticements are no different than bonuses employees receive for a job well done and its the end result that matters anyway.

Of course, I disagree. I don’t think the ends always justify the means. What sets quality employees apart from their average counterparts, who when incentivized (thanks Arne) do quality work, is pride in workmanship and that’s a trait that can’t be cultivated purely with money.

So, here’s comes another reason why I don’t think cash rewards are a good practice for getting students to do the best they can do: the funding sources can dry up, as they have in Chicago, which launched its “Paper Project” program in 20 high schools just last year.

Officials aren’t writing off the program, just yet, but given the poor economy and the fact that the private donors who completely funded the project are surprise, surprise feeling the pinch, district officials are weighing their options as they also start prioritizing their spending.

“It’s not just a discussion of does the The Paper Project get funded,” Chicago schools’ CEO Ron Huberman told ABC News. “It’s a bigger discussion of— in these difficult times, with funding being cut everywhere— where should we be using those dollars most effectively to have the best outcomes for our kids?”

Hey, Ron, in this economy, I think the best lesson kids can learn is that money can come and go but their performance can stick with them forever.

Senior Editor, Naomi Dillon

Naomi Dillon|June 22nd, 2009|Categories: American School Board Journal, Budgeting, Governance|Tags: , , , |

School Board News Today headlines

Should schools cut animal dissections?

Duncan warns advocates that inferior charter schools harm the effort

Two students, two schools — 20 miles and a world apart

Delaware bill would reward 10 schools for closing gap

Philadelphia teachers cite intense push to promote

Calif. Democrats want schools to get billions that voters rejected

Joetta Sack-Min|June 22nd, 2009|Categories: American School Board Journal, Budgeting, Governance, School Reform|
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