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6 Common School District Budgeting Mistakes & How to Avoid Them

6 Common School District Budgeting Mistakes & How to Avoid Them

“I think the teaching profession contributes more to the future of our society than any other single profession.” ~ John Wooden

Creating a school district budget requires patience and planning. Since most school districts have limited resources, having a strategic plan for spending is essential during the budgeting process, particularly if school budget optimization is a goal.

Here at Alludo, we spend a lot of our time focused on how to provide cost-effective and affordable teacher professional development that will fit into any school budget. We understand that every school district has to allocate funds wisely. We also understand that professional development plays an essential role in reducing teacher turnover—something that can break any district’s budget if it is left unchecked. 

To help you with your school district budget, here are six common school district budgeting mistakes together with some tips on how to avoid them.

Table of Contents

  1. Why is School District Budgeting Important?
  2. 6 Common School District Budget Mistakes and Tips for Avoiding Them
    1. #1: Spending at the End of the Year
    2. #2: Ignoring Your Budget During the Year
    3. #3: Allocation of Resources
    4. #4: Inaccurate Forecasting
    5. #5: Incorrect Prioritization
    6. #6: Lack of Transparency
  3. Alludo’s Take
  4. Make Room for Teacher Professional Development in Your Budget with Alludo

Why is School District Budgeting Important?

Before we talk about budgeting mistakes, let’s review why school district budgeting is so important to everyone in your district, including teachers, administrators, students, and parents.

Budgeting is the process of using available resources, specifically money, to fund instructional strategies and initiatives that produce optimal student outcomes while making sure that teachers feel supported and valued. Said another way, your school district budget is an overview of your plans to educate the district’s students, thus delivering on the implicit promise of every school district to parents, who want to be assured that their children’s education is in good hands.

The most important element of budgeting in school districts is to support the people, programs, and initiatives that improve student learning and achievement, leading to optimal student outcomes. Outcomes may be measured by reviewing test results, student dropout rates, and acceptance rates to colleges. Ideally, every district would have a budget that included sufficient funding for every effective program that could help students.

Over the years, school districts have shifted their budgeting decisions in response to the increased adoption of standardized achievement tests. The most important criteria are typically these:

  • Governing board fiscal policies
  • Union contract provisions
  • District, state, and federal regulations
  • Number of students affected by the budget
  • Program quality and results

School districts still have freedom in terms of which programs and initiatives they try and how they choose to budget. For example, a district using a performance-based budget strategy might put the most focus on hiring experienced teachers and funding high-quality programs that deliver results. Ultimately, the items that are included in any school district budget should support student achievement with an eye toward improving student outcomes. 

We would be remiss if we didn’t mention the importance of budgets as it relates to teacher turnover, something that’s a significant expense in most school districts thanks to the ongoing teacher shortage. Including a robust system of professional development in your district budget can improve teacher retention and decrease district costs in the long run.

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6 Common School District Budget Mistakes and Tips for Avoiding Them

Now that we have reviewed why school district budgets are important and necessary, here are six common school district budget mistakes and our tips on how to avoid making them.

#1: Spending at the End of the Year

One of the most common mistakes that school districts make is avoiding spending money early in the school year and then rushing to spend it at the end of the year. You might wonder why this is an issue if the money gets used during the school year. Our response would be that the money in the budget is meant to be used for the benefit of students and teachers, so holding off on spending for essential items actually deprives them of necessary resources.

You can avoid this mistake by viewing the acquisition of necessary supplies as an ongoing effort throughout the school year. If your computers are due for an upgrade and there’s money in the budget to do it, then do it immediately. That way, your district’s students will reap the benefits of the money that was included in the budget during that school year.

#2: Ignoring Your Budget During the Year

Your school district budget might be complete before the school year starts, but that doesn’t mean you can (or should) ignore it until your next budgeting session. If you don’t check in on your budget and spending regularly, you may end up over or under-spending to the detriment of the district as a whole.

The best way to avoid this mistake is to schedule monthly check-ins where you review spending and compare expenditures to your budget. Remember, budgets are roadmaps but that doesn’t mean that they can’t be changed if a change is necessary. Monitoring spending on a monthly basis will help you stick to your budget and improve its accuracy.

#3: Allocation of Resources

One of the most important elements of school district budgeting is the allocation of resources. Choosing where and how to spend the money you have can dramatically impact student outcomes and play a role in teacher retention, as well.

Mistakes are possible both in under-allocation and over-allocation of funds. For example, some school districts might not allocate sufficient resources to teacher professional development, or they might over-allocate funds to programs that aren’t delivering the expected results.

It’s also possible to end up with unbalanced allocation of resources based on your school district’s needs. The best way to avoid this issue is to prioritize your needs first, and then allocate funds based on their importance to student outcomes and other district goals.

#4: Inaccurate Forecasting

Forecasting plays an essential role in budgeting. It’s often not possible to know how much an initiative will cost, particularly if your district uses a multi-year budgeting strategy. It’s necessary to factor inflation into your calculations and there are many economic factors outside of your control that may impact inflation.

Another area where forecasting comes into play is in student enrollment. State funding for your school district may be predicated in part on student enrollment, and your budget needs to take that into consideration.

The best way to guard against forecasting issues is to take a conservative approach to budgeting. At the same time, you’ll need to be prepared to revisit and amend your budget if inflation or lower-than-expected enrollment impact your budget’s accuracy.

#5: Incorrect Prioritization

Every school district has priorities when it comes to spending, but a common budgeting error is failing to prioritize important programs and initiatives or prioritizing them incorrectly. 

For example, most school districts spend the bulk of their budget on salaries for teachers, school administrators, and staff. A failure to allocate enough money for salaries could lead to high teacher turnover—and in a time where there’s a serious shortage of teachers, that could be a very costly mistake.

The fix for this error is a simple one. When you begin the budgeting process, start by prioritizing categories of spending. That way, you can be sure that you have the funds you need for your most important priorities and allocate remaining funds appropriately.

#6: Lack of Transparency

Transparency about your school district budget is necessary because it keeps stakeholders in the loop and helps the public understand what your priorities are and where you’re spending money. Considering that a large portion of your district’s money comes from property taxes, these are both important considerations.

The most essential communication should relate not to the numbers in the budget itself but to what your priorities are as a school district. Stakeholders, including teachers, administrators, staff, and parents, need to understand what you are prioritizing and why. The same applies to the public.

The way to avoid this mistake is to make communication one of your priorities. Focus on what you hope to accomplish with the resources available to you and why they matter to the district and the communities it serves.

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Alludo’s Take

Professional development for teachers provides support for your district’s most important strategic goals and initiatives. It’s for that reason that your district budget should allocate funds for professional development.

Alludo provides cost-effective professional development for teachers that’s online, asynchronous, and drives teacher engagement and enthusiasm. We’re dedicated to keeping our PD platform affordable, so that every school district can provide professional learning without breaking the budget.

In addition to providing teachers with the ongoing learning and support they need to excel in the classroom, an investment in professional development for teachers also helps teachers to feel supported in their work. It can reduce long-term costs related to teacher turnover and burnout while also delivering the best possible student outcomes. The money you spend on teacher PD now can help make room in your budget for bigger educational initiatives down the line.

Make Room for Professional Development in Your School District Budget

Budgeting mistakes can cost your school district far more than you can afford to pay, especially as they contribute to teacher burnout and turnover, both of which can be costly. By avoiding the 6 common mistakes we’ve explained here, you can make room in your budget for professional development while decreasing teacher turnover and improving student outcomes.

Do you need a budget-friendly solution for teacher professional development? Alludo can help! Click here to get your free trial of Madagascar, a sample course of how we support online asynchronous professional development.

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