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Healthy School Finance Practices (So Your District Gets Optimal Value From Its Budget)

A meeting to discuss healthy school finance practices

Managing the budget is a top priority for any organization that wants to stay in business. After all, deciding where to allocate capital is a strategic step towards higher profits and growth.

For an outsider, this might not seem quite so clear cut for public schools due to their status as nonprofit organizations. Of course, those of us who have an insider’s perspective know that the education of future generations is on the line and the stakes are high when it comes to budget management. But while no one like to see waste in a school budget, who has the time to do a deep analysis of every option to ensure that the most effective programs get funded?

Because we know how important managing your budget is and the correlation between data-driven budgetary decisions and student success, we developed Eidex FOCUS to help educators and administrators like you create budgets that maximize student achievement and strengthen the fiscal health for your school district.

Creating a Healthy Budget

In order to boost student achievement with your budget, you should allocate exactly as much as you need for the most effective line items, and no more. Overspending in one area can lead to waste, plus reduce the resources available to other programs. Easier said than done, though!

In practice, this can feel impossible. There are always additional factors throughout the schoolyear (not even a glass ball could forecast a pandemic). And when gas prices nearly double, extra money for fueling school buses has to come from somewhere, you know?

While there are factors completely outside the realm of control, some are pretty steady and predictable. The majority of school funding comes from local property taxes (which tend to stay stable or increase) and state taxes, which are typically dispersed based on the state’s own algorithm for per-pupil spending.

Your state may have done an adequacy study, to determine the per-pupil spending required to provide an adequate education, with extra funds required for special education, poverty, English-language learners, and geographic isolation. A small amount of federal money usually rounds out the funding side of the equation.

On the spending side, around 80% of the budget is used for personnel salaries and benefits. This means a lot of budget conversations revolve around salaries. However, you’ll also have to address which programs receive which funding, and wouldn’t that be easier if you had concrete data on where your dollars go the furthest to increase student achievement?

We thought so too.

Eidex is comprised of a team of educators who have been in the trenches of budget discussions and tough choices. We designed Eidex FOCUS to be a tool to help you make data-driven decisions about your school budget, with an emphasis on academic achievement. Want to know which programs are the most effective? FOCUS can show you where budget allocations will have the greatest impact.

In addition, FOCUS shows you what your peer districts are doing differently, to help you see easy ways to optimize your budget. We believe your data is more powerful in the right context, so with the click of a button you can compare you staff salaries to peer districts, statewide data, or a custom group that you choose.

This enables you to identify quick cost savings by looking at how your expenditures compare to similar school districts and see how your return on investment measures up against your peers.

Using tools to find solutions to school funding problems

Solutions to School Funding Problems

Let’s get back to those additional factors that pop up throughout the school year. Even if you absolutely nail the budget initially, life doesn’t unfold as planned. Mid-year budget crises are bound to happen where you least expect them.

While there are no secret money trees that will help you weather these budget storms, one of the best solutions to school funding problems is to identify them early and mitigate their spread.

By visually tracking your spending data, you can identify trends before they grow out of control. While you may not notice as quickly when looking at raw numbers, the slope of a line on a graph tells a complete story that is quickly and easily understood.

If you are able to carefully plan and track your budget allocations, you can make the most out of every dollar, getting one step closer to achieving that perfect budget. Eidex FOCUS generates visually compelling graphs that make this kind of granular perspective easy to see so budget problems don’t sneak up on you.

A favorite client interview of ours highlights how Eidex data helped Greenville schools maximize their limited resources:

“One of the ways that data from Eidex has allowed us to address this challenge is through Return-on-Investment metrics,” comments Michelle. “I’ve been able to show our Board of Education and any other interested groups how much we spent on instructions as compared to our comp (peer) districts, and then go in and show the return on investment as defined by how our academic achievement has been compared to those same districts.”

Tracking financial metrics is burdensome, but it’s crucial to a successful school year. Why not let Eidex do the heavy lifting for you?

How to Effectively Communicate Resource Decisions

Creating a budget isn’t easy but communicating your budget decisions to the stakeholders can be even harder. You’ll never make everyone happy with your budget; perhaps the best you can hope for is to help them understand the logic behind your choices.

Getting stakeholder buy-in is an important but overlooked step in the budget process. A unified team will perform better than a group divided by personal agendas and criticisms. To win the support (or at least tacit understanding) of the school board, teachers, and even parents, here are some key practices for more effective communication:

  • Emphasize how the decisions apply to student achievement. The bottom line for every budget item should be giving your students tools for success.

  • Support your decisions with data. When measurable numbers, like real dollar amounts, are presented, decisions sound more credible and thoroughly researched.

  • If possible, present visual reports and charts that support your decisions. People will digest this more deeply and retain it better than if the information was presented orally.

  • When making generalizations, such as citing studies, explain how they apply locally. Stakeholders want to know that the information is relevant because context matters.

  • Win over allies. For example, a principal is a trusted local source of information. Having the principal on board with the budget is a powerful ally for persuading stakeholders.

  • Authentically welcome feedback, even if the decisions have already been made. People want their voices to be heard, and sometimes all they need is to have their feelings acknowledged. This will lead to greater trust.

With Eidex FOCUS, it’s easy to show how decisions are achievement-oriented, and you can easily communicate your decisions with built-in graphs to defend your data-driven decisions. The visually intuitive charts help your stakeholders understand how allocating funds allows your students to reach their maximum potential.

How Can Eidex FOCUS Help You Maximize Your Budget?

If you’d like to see what insights Eidex FOCUS can show you about your school or district, and how your spending compares to your peers, we’d love to give you a free demo. We’ll include a custom report to show you what your cost-saving areas are compared to districts of similar size.

For more information, you can also call us at 844-512-3282 or fill out our contact form and we’ll be happy to tell you about Eidex FOCUS, PRISM, and how you can transform your data into valuable insights!

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