Your school budgeting process is clearly one of the most critical aspects of the school year. At the same time, it’s also one of the most complicated, right? You have so many variables that need to come together to achieve your district’s goals for academic development.
Your financial allocations come from a combination of historical data and future projections, which means financial data integrity is an essential factor to creating a good budget. Of course, it’s also important to look at similar area schools. In doing so, you can compare your district to relevant peer groups to highlight easy cost savings and identify best practices.
In a world where terabytes of data are generated daily, it can be difficult to discern vital datapoints from noise. Many districts like yours are finding the best solution is to harness the power of computer algorithms to help save time and money in the school budgeting process.
Essential Stages of the School Budgeting Process
No matter what size the school district, you will find that budget planning follows nearly the same process. And once a budget is planned, it’s almost inevitable that it will undergo changes as various parties weigh in with their priorities. Communication and feedback are truly key to this whole process.
Stage 1: Looking Back
A critical step in improving any existing process is looking at how things are currently done and identifying what is working, and what needs to be adjusted. And that certainly applies when using data sources for building a school budget. In this context, it entails investing a little time to ask:
What were the successes and challenges of last year’s budget?
Where did lapsed appropriations occur?
Were there any categories that last year’s budget missed?
Robust notes on previous budgets will drive appropriate adjustments to this year’s forecast, as last year’s budget is undoubtedly the foundation for your current planning process.
Stage 2: Looking Forward
Since 80-85% of budget expenditures are on personnel, getting that part of the budget right is critical to success. Forecasts of enrollment, pay increases, increases in insurance premiums and other benefits, and student support services drive the majority of planning in this stage.
Planning for equipment repairs and upgrades – everything from basketball hoops to new computers to facility maintenance – will also impact your budgeting for the next year.
Stage 3: Looking at Academic Achievement Goals
The core of your district’s existence, of course, is to provide quality education for your students. Now is the time to 1) determine where improvements are needed, 2) come up with an actionable plan to meet your goals in those areas, and 3) forecast the cost. For this step you should have all respective stakeholders submit their programs and needs.
A best practice is to prioritize these line-item submissions. As the financial gurus say, “You can afford anything, but you can’t afford everything.” Making the priorities clear will help everyone understand where cuts will be made to accommodate the actual budget.
Stage 4: Looking to Your Peers
While the data from your own district will drive many budgetary decisions, comparing your district to your peers’ districts can also have a powerful impact on your priorities. Meaningful comparisons start with well-chosen peers and using tools like Eidex FOCUS’s peer-matching engine can provide you with the most relevant analysis for your district.
These comparisons can quickly provide you with an idea of where your district is overspending and underspending. And this helps you optimize your budget.
Stage 5: Review and Finalize
After making adjustments based on the data you’ve gathered, it’s time to review your budget and send the summary to your stakeholders. Their input will undoubtedly require a few modifications, but then you’ll be ready to finalize your district’s budget for the year.
Stage 6: Monitor and React
You are likely quite aware that every year comes with unpredictable challenges (like perhaps a global pandemic). Because of things don’t always go according to plan, it’s important to monitor your budget on a regular basis. If your forecasts aren’t panning out, this will enable you to react to the changes and head off problems before they snowball.
Data-Driven Decisions Provide a Better Budget Foundation
A lot of changes happen during the school year that influence both the budget and academic performance. To get a more accurate picture of your needs, it’s better to rely on data instead of memory. But what are the right data sources for building a school budget?
You want to be assured that when sifting through your district’s data, you’re identifying the correct metrics. And, because you’ll need to communicate this information to the other stakeholders, transforming these numbers into an intuitive and engaging visualization will prove to be most effective for everyone.
At Eidex, we make it easy to centralize mountains of data into one platform. Using our FOCUS software, which takes comprehensive data from multiple sources, we transform your statistics and information into powerful insights with the click of a button. The software creates charts and graphs to help you identify trends and easily communicate them to your team.
The most powerful aspect of Eidex FOCUS is our peer-matching algorithm. By using predefined peer groups, you get an accurate and contextual picture of your academic standing. You can also build a custom peer group for specific parameters, like socioeconomic status.
As we like to say: Good comparisons start with well-chosen peers. Remember, your data is more powerful when framed in the right context.
Learn More About Eidex FOCUS
If you’d like to streamline the evaluation of your academic and financial performance and use your data to drive decisions for your budget planning, then you’ve come to the right place.
To learn more about Eidex FOCUS and using Eidex software to inform your budgeting and negotiation processes, please feel free to access any of our on-demand webinars whenever you’d like in our Learning Center. We also encourage you to keep an eye out for future and upcoming events here.
We also have world-class data coaches available to help you navigate your data and create custom reports. If you’ve got questions about how to use Eidex to improve your school budgeting process, we’d love to hear from you. Call our office at 844-512-3282 or fill out our contact form to get started today!
American Association of School Administrators. (2010, May 18). AASA White Paper: School Budgets 101. Alexandria, VA: The School Superintendents Association. Retrieved from https://www.aasa.org/uploadedfiles/policy_and_advocacy/files/schoolbudgetbrieffinal.pdf