Margaret Raymond Driscoll is a nine-year Melrose School Committee member who is passionate about excellent teaching and learning for all public school students, and considers it a privilege to collaborate with others who share that passion. You can also follow her on Twitter at @MargaretDrisc. Just to be clear - opinions expressed here do not represent those of the Melrose Public Schools, the Melrose School Committee, or the Massachusetts Association of School Business Officials - they are hers alone.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Great Conference (#MASCconf2015)! Starting with Budget and Finance....

Thank you to Melrose taxpayers who afforded me the opportunity to participate in the Mass. Association of School Committees (MASC)/Mass. Association of School Superintendents (MASS) annual conference this past week. This year, there was more collaboration than ever with the Mass. Association of School Business Officials (MASBO) in order to provide specific advice from school finance professionals. Below are my notes from attendance at three budget and finance sessions (and all credit to presenters as major elements below are from your slides):

Cost Savings and Efficiencies: Best Practices

MASBO Executive Director Dave Verdolino moderated while Plymouth SBO Gary Costin and Newton Asst. Supt. Sandra Guryan spoke to award-winning initiatives in their districts:

Gary Costin: Plymouth is investing heavily in solar (and currently uses a local 23-acre solar field to provide significant power resources). Expected life is 20 years, by which time they anticipate other technologies to take over.

Sandra Guryan: Newton is managing increasing enrollments that are geographically inconsistent across the district, aging facilities, and inadequate space for programming, by continuing quality planning designed to address these challenges. Elements of consideration include funding, (local and state), school sizes, swing space, and potential residential development. Desired outcomes include up-to-date teaching and learning facilities, right-sizing capacity, maximizing state funding, phasing/continuing use of swing space, maintenance and optimization of neighborhood schools, balancing intra-district feeder patterns, elimination/reduction of modular classrooms, and improvement of energy systems. The timeline reaches to FY34. Planning involves a continuous, dynamic, and evolving cycle performed in conjunction with city departments and the district’s strategic plan. A detailed annual update is reviewed by the district.

What School Committees Should Ask from their School Business Officials (SBO's)

Moderated by Worcester’s SBO Brian Allen and with panelists Tracy O’Connell Novick (Worcester SC) and Alan Himmelburger (Blackstone-Milville Regional Supt.). They spoke to “the need for timely and comprehensive communication about the district’s financial condition and budget awareness.” 

Purpose of the budget: describe how money is being allocated in order to accomplish district priorities and manage spending throughout the year.

·      Budgets are easily misinterpreted, hard to understand, and easily ridiculed.
·      The Committee must understand where the $ comes from, adopt a process for moving it, and determine the public process necessary to explain and build consensus.
·      Zero-based budgets are about 90% pre-determined since such a significant portion high is salaries.
The ideal budget document:
·      Includes more narrative than numbers (and narratives can be written in the fall)
·      Explains $, enrollment, trends, goals, and objectives
·      Describes how resources are tied to decisions
·      Contains charts revealing history and projections
·      Informs the Committee of decisions that need to be made
·      Includes other items the Committee defines
·      Details budget assumptions
·      May provide a PowerPoint summary, but that is not the budget – must be detail
·      Should include things like Foundation Budget Review Commission information, state budget impacts, grants, etc.

Another support your SBO can provide: help quantifying the impact on the district of legislation.

Roles and Responsibilities of School Committees in their Communities: Budget Development, Implementation, and Monitoring

Co-moderated and presented by MASC Field Rep Jim Hardy and MASBO Executive Director Dave Verdolino. While they led the discussion, the majority of dialogue was among and between attendees, offering the advantage of learning the questions/concerns of other districts. 

·      It’s the Committee’s fiduciary responsibility to watch out for taxpayers’ money
·      The passing of budgets requires trust - how is that built? Over time and with credibility and accountability.
     The budget is a policy instrument that:
o   Is approved and changed by local officials, who also approve expenditures (warrants)
o   Sets district priorities by funding them (or not)
o   Supports personnel policy including collective bargaining, equal opportunity/discrimination, and the employment process
o   Supports student related policies/services like fees
o   Affirms policies in grants (like federal programs)
      Administration will generally present the full detail to the Committee for budget deliberations / the Committee generally avoids going into discrete detail in order to maintain its role appropriately and avoid unnecessary involvement in intra-school and intra-program matters. MASC recommends:
o   That line items clearly define major categories and be sufficiently detailed to monitor policy and give building administrators flexibility to adjust spending needs within their buildings as long as they don’t change district policy
o   Working with budget data at three degrees of detail: fine detail (to develop the overall district budget); official internal budget and policy document used to periodically monitor; and the generally used budget (in reasonable detail) for official municipal review.