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Articles in the Budgeting category

Economy forces tough decisions, like increased class sizes

Times are tough for public school policymakers, and the latest evidence is a decision this week by the Chicago school board to raise the maximum class size in schools to 35 students.

sardines Pictures, Images and Photos

That’s not to say city school officials have decided to treat students as a land-based form of sardines. As schools CEO Ron Huberman was quick to note, what’s actually going to happen with the school system’s budget is “fluid and changes by the day.”

He just wants some flexibility. And, as a recent Chicago Sun-Times story made clear, the school board was more than willing to comply, unanimously approving “every emergency measure brought before them to help plug an estimated $427 million deficit.”

Naomi Dillon|June 17th, 2010|Categories: American School Board Journal, Budgeting, Governance|Tags: , |

Wheels on the bus go round and round, but budgets remain flat

0510ASBJndRemember when gas prices topped more than 4 bucks a gallon a couple years back? Of course you do because I’m sure, it altered your driving habits, maybe even cancelled a few road trips, perhaps forced you to take mass transit if you lived in a metropolis.

For schools districts, the skyrocketing fuel costs caused a wild scramble among officials to contain the volatily whether it meant expanding the walking radius for kids, nixing bus stops and field trips, and enforcing no-idling policies for school buses.

Fortunately, we haven’t seen the gas prices climb that high since but student transportation like every other district service is being examined because revenues haven’t climbed either, in fact, they’ve declined drastically over the last few years

So what’s a school district to do, this time around? Well, I explored that dilemma in the latest edition of ASBJ— and as can be expected, it’s not pretty.

In hard hit California, which actually doesn’t require districts to provide transportation to students, its forced officials to tone down their generosity, and for some, like Yucaipa-Calimesa Joint Unified, eliminate the service entirely.

Naomi Dillon|May 26th, 2010|Categories: American School Board Journal, Budgeting|Tags: , , |

Fundraising filling —and widening— the gaps in public education

PICT0004Fundraising to keep prized arts programs, sports or even a beloved teacher’s job is not a new phenomenon, especially in these chaotic budget-slashing times. But in some places, parents and businesses are bringing in hundreds of thousands of dollars from fundraisers, using strategies that go well beyond the bake sale.

USA Today reports on a school in Silicon Valley that has raised $1.6 million to save teachers’ jobs. Parents have asked every household to contribute $375 and businesses to contribute a portion of each day’s sales.

Supporters of the West Bloomfield, Mich. school district built a website to educate the community on the impact of budget cuts and started a “dollar-a-day” campaign to help patch a $3.8 million budget hole.

But Dan Domenich, executive director of the American Association of School Administrators, pointed out that the fundraising could widen the gap between rich and poor students. And, he told USA Today, “You have the funding for one year and then what?”

Naomi Dillon|May 10th, 2010|Categories: American School Board Journal, Budgeting, Governance|Tags: , |

Benefits of teaching shifting in an economic downturn

0510ASBJndI’m going to make a prediction: public pensions’ days are limited.

Now, I don’t say this lightly but after researching and reporting for my latest ASBJ feature on this very topic, it’s hard not to reach the conclusion that retirement plans for public employees like school teachers will have to be restructured in a big way— or else risk pulling down the entire state’s economy.

Such is the case in Pennsylvania, where school districts will have to hike their employer contribution rates in the retirement system some 700 percent by 2014. To say that district officials are freaking out, would be an understatement.

Districts can’t rely on local taxpayers to bail them out and hence states can’t rely on districts to make up the gap, which was caused primarily by huge investment losses last year— a phenomenon that hit anybody that played in the stockmarket which means Pennsylvania’s pension isn’t the only one in jeopardy.

Oregon, Ohio, Michigan, West Virginia, California, and the list goes on and on of states that will need to have a serious reckoning with the way they fund retirement for its public employees.

Naomi Dillon|May 5th, 2010|Categories: American School Board Journal, Budgeting, Governance, Policy Formation|Tags: , , |

Recession’s lasting effect on public schools unknown

1-1235664948qCNwHaving made some really tough budget decisions in the past few years—and now confronted with yet another tough fiscal year ahead—local school boards truly are entering “uncharted territory.”

That’s the title of ASBJ‘s May cover story, which examines the budget struggles of public schools nationwide—and what the future holds.

Perhaps the biggest question is how recent budget cuts will affect student learning. If little Johnny must attend a class with 30 other students, how does this affect his ability to learn to read? How is little Sally affected if her math teacher hasn’t had any professional development training since 2007?

Answers are simple: No one knows. But certainly many worry about the accumulated impact of larger class sizes, loss of teacher training, delayed technology and textbook purchases, closed down tutoring programs, and the layoff of many qualified teachers and administrators.

Oh, yes, then there’s the astonishing fact that some financially hard-hit school systems—including the entire state of Hawaii—switched to a four-day school week to balance their budgets.

Naomi Dillon|April 29th, 2010|Categories: American School Board Journal, Budgeting, NSBA Publications|Tags: , , |

Central office necessary, not a nuisance to providing public education

1453-1249689262vehtI’m really tired of suggestions that school boards can ease their school budget deficits by cutting more administrators from the payroll.

One of the latest to offer this all-too-common recommendation was Maryland Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, who recently was talking about his state’s more than $1.5 billion budget shortfall.

“We don’t want to cut public education, so we’re going to have to go to superintendents of schools and say: ‘Listen, you’ve got to find us some administrators, some bureaucrats, some public relations people that we can cut, because we’re not going to furlough teachers,’ ” the Baltimore Sun reports Miller saying.

Now, I applaud any recognition of the importance of teachers—and protecting the instruction that goes on in the classroom. And I’m sure Sen. Miller means well.

But, really, this sounds like one of those off-the-cuff remarks that policymakers spout every once in a while.

And it’s not helpful. It just gets people thinking that there’s fat to cut in today’s school budgets. That many school district central offices are bloated, staffed by people who don’t do essential work.

It ain’t so.

School board members and superintendents know the reality. A school system is a complex, multi-million-dollar operation, and there is a lot of work to be done outside the classroom if teachers are to teach—and students are to learn.

Naomi Dillon|February 18th, 2010|Categories: American School Board Journal, Budgeting, Governance, Policy Formation|Tags: , , |

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|
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