Budget planning is an important activity that almost all types of organizations go through each year. For school districts, budgeting allows leaders to drive growth and address areas of improvements by allocating resources to prioritize certain school needs. The nature of an effective budget is driven and informed by data. As long-time data enthusiasts, we put our heads together here at Eidex to outline in 3 steps how your district can seamlessly integrate data into budget planning, preparation, and evaluation.
1. Planning involves setting goals and objectives, and developing programs needed to achieve those goals and objectives. During this phase of the budgeting process, data about where the district is currently and where it wants to be in the next year can be extremely beneficial in providing guidance for setting SMART goals. Here are a couple of examples:
A district examined historical performance on the state assessment compared to peers with similar socioeconomics. Leadership team then realized that their students are performing slightly worse than the peer average. At this point, they set a goal to improve proficiency to outperform the current peer average in the next year. As a result, the team can start planning for programs that will help the district achieve this goal and inform the budget allocation process later.
A district examined the ROI of instructional expenditures in the last year (defined as average instructional expenditures per student over average state assessment proficiency). In the graph, the further a district falls in the bottom right corner, the higher expenditures and lower achievement. Upon analyzing this data, leadership team set a goal of moving the district closer to the top left corner using a combination of smart investments on academic improvement programs and appropriate cost controlling.
2. Budget preparation is the allocation process where the district decides how much of their resources get distributed to different programs. During this phase, data on historical trends of expenditures and revenues as well as the district’s current financial health (fund balance, debt structures, revenue-to-expenditures ratio, etc.) can help inform decisions. Using this data, the district can reliably map out its constraints or surpluses in resources.
The district can also examine forecasted data (if available) on enrollment, revenues, and specific expenditures (transportation, payroll, etc.) This data can be inferred using historical fluctuations in past years. By reliably forecasting these numbers, administrators will be in a better position to effectively allocate available resources.
3. Budget evaluation involves careful examination of how resources were allocated and whether the outcomes achieved goals set in the planning phase. To evaluate the budget, administrators can examine data that was reviewed during the planning phase to identify any changes. A good metric to come back to is the ROI rate on instructional expenditures (administrators can also track this rate for individual programs). Financial health data is also crucial to the evaluation phase. Come back to numbers on fund balance, operating ratios, debt structures to determine if the new budget has helped improve your financial standing.