Wednesday, May 25, 2011

A Quick Primer on the School Budget Process

The school budget process is boring.

It is a smaller segment of the district's long budget process, but the most important part. School budgeting determines the level of staffing each school receives, and strongly affects staff continuity in schools from year to year. This is how it works:

1. The district makes enrollment projections for every school in the district (February-ish).

2. Based on those projections, district administrators allocate staff and money to schools using a funding formula called the WSS (also February-ish, released with the enrollment projections).

The WSS has formulas for each type of school:

  • elementary (with 3 staffing sizes. under 300, 300-450, over 450)

  • K-8 (with 5 staffing sizes. under 300, 300-399, 400-499, 499-700 and over 700)

  • middle (with 3 sizes. under 700, 701-900 and over 900)

  • high school (with 4 sizes. under 800, 801-1100, 1101-1500, over 1501)
There are clear guidelines about student-teacher ratios at different grade levels, as well as for students with additional instructional needs (bilingual, Special Education). Teachers are allocated according to whatever the specified ratio is (the biggest ratio variance, outside of students with special needs, is at elementary schools; the student-teacher ratio increases from K to 5th). The total population size of the school (an elementary school with more than 450 students, for example, will get an assistant principal) determines what additional support staff will be in the building: assistant principals, extra nurse time, house administrators, and increased secretarial staffing.

3. After the initial allocation, no matter how crappy, the budgets are sent to schools to "approve." Schools have some wiggle room to make decisions (sometimes if staff is being reduced, they get to decide who goes), but mostly, they have to approve the budget.

4. Initial enrollment numbers come in (May-ish), and "staffing adjustments" are made upwards or downwards. I have just a wee bit of additional commentary on this portion of the process.

5. Secondary enrollment numbers come in (over the summer). Judging by what happened at Garfield this past fall, nothing happens at this point.

6. Students arrive at school. Final staffing adjustments are made and finalized by October 1.

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