Developing a needs-based budget

PASS Parents and Friends —

We’d like to introduce you to our newest board member, Katie Freakley. Katie has two children at WWR and a third who will be be there in a few years. Katie just finished a four-year term on the School Board, and has agreed to join the Board of PASS. Today she wrote a piece explaining the concept of a needs-based budget. It’s very informative — give it a read.

Hi strong school supporters –

With this post, I want to touch on what goes into the creation of the school board’s budget and why a needs-based approach is not only required by state law, it’s a responsible approach as good stewards of taxpayer dollars.

By law, the superintendent and elected school board are required to submit a needs-based budget. Specifically, Virginia Code requirement § 22.1-92 mandates that “It shall be the duty of each division superintendent to prepare, with the approval of the school board, and submit to the governing body or bodies appropriating funds for the school division, by the date specified in § 15.2-2503, the estimate of the amount of money deemed to be needed during the next fiscal year for the support of the public schools of the school division.”

In addition to state code specifically supporting a needs-based approach, providing our county leadership with a true and accurate representation of the needs of our school division should be expected by our taxpayers each and every budget cycle given the significant impact quality education has on our community as a whole.

By definition, a budget is “an estimate of income and expenditure for a set period of time”. When working on our own personal budgets, we know making choices is complex, requires tough decisions and is constantly fluid – things can change at any time! –so we try to be prepared through budgeting.

When talking about budgeting for a very diverse, rural, 6,000+ student public school division with hundreds of employees, 10 school buildings, and a transportation fleet, budgeting is more like a heaping mountain of constantly moving parts often times driven by unpredictable numbers like new state and federal mandates, an unexpected influx of new students, a broken chiller, a bus that needs repair, a generous donation to partner on a new program from a local business, etc. Things like long term planning, the capital improvements plan (CIP), and salary scales are just some of the tools put in place to provide necessary direction on a “budgetary road map” of sorts to support proactive decision making versus reactionary decision making based on the needs identified by the experts in our schools – the folks living and breathing education in our schools, with our kids, every day.

Here’s a simplified overview of how the process has worked in recent years:

Every year the school board makes available the budget meeting schedule with opportunities for the community to provide input during scheduled public hearings, public comments, and surveys. The superintendent asks building level administration to provide their input. Principals provide input based on departmental/instructional needs, staffing needs, athletic department needs, guidance and counseling needs, library and technology needs, transportation and maintenance needs, and so on. Along with school board office staff, the superintendent then analyzes and filters the recommendations, pinpointing most strategic use of dollars.

The Superintendent then presents a recommended budget to the School Board, who, through work sessions, evaluation and discussion further refines the budget before sending the budget to the county for consideration by the Board of Supervisors, the authority that ultimately decides on funding. Once an overall county budget is finalized, to include the school division, resourcefully implementing and utilizing the appropriated dollars as strategically as possible becomes the task at hand because budget cycles of the recent past would show that the school division is often forced to make choices that pit human capital against capital improvements because funding needs for both just aren’t met as presented in the needs-based budget. While critics will inevitably suggest that the school division arbitrarily asks for money, throwing around buzz words like “blank check” and “mismanagement” during the budget process, reality is much different.

The transparency of the needs-based approach parallels the old expression – “the warts and all”. Failing to acknowledge the needs of our schools, the big and the small, will not make them go away or bring resolution as to how to appropriately address them. As time goes on, the small issues turn into big issues and the big issues become overwhelmingly too big to bear. As a community, we can’t begin to address what needs fixing or what we can expand upon to create even greater successes if the needs of our schools (and the consequences of inadequately funding those needs) are not fully displayed for taxpayers and the leadership responsible for making funding decisions.

I encourage our community to review the current SCPS budget meeting schedule, which you can find on the Shenandoah County Public Schools website. There are many meetings and work sessions open to the public and opportunities for public participation so our community can follow and actively contribute in the process of effectively and responsibly meeting the needs of Shenandoah County Public Schools.

Katie Freakley 

P.S. Here is a link to a story that NV Daily wrote about the Superintendent’s budget proposal:

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