Moving beyond the “budget dance”

Here is the link to an article on improving district budgeting that is published in Kappan’s March issue. Abstract The annual budgeting process is a valuable opportunity for districts to systematically examine both resource use and programming and use the findings to inform and drive change to optimize resource use and improve program efficacy that will lead to increased student achievement. Bo Yan and Thomas Aberli discuss three root causes for districts’ inability to accomplish the goals (reliance on problem-driven needs as the dominant factor of budgetary decisions, disconnect between financial management and performance management, as well as human nature). […]

Investment and Operation Expenditures Revisited

A few readers wrote to me asking for further clarification on the differences between investment and operation expenditures. For example, should a one-to-one initiative be classified as an operation or investment expenditure. This short post helps answer such questions. After reading Rethink District Budgeting Part I and Part II, it is apparent that all the new “budget dance” moves start with differentiating between operation and investment expenditures. While Table 1 can be readily applied to make the distinction for most expenditures, there are cases where the distinction is not that clear cut. For certain expenditures, people may have genuine differences […]

Rethink District Budgeting – Part II

In previous post, my colleague Dr. Tom Aberli and I discussed three forces that shape and influence district budget decisions: 1) needs-based framework, 2) existing financial management practice, and 3) human nature. In this post, we present how we can build on the existing infrastructure and processes with a new lens and framework to overcome the challenges brought about by those forces. Specifically, we propose to: 1) differentiate between operation and investment expenditures, 2) track expenses on alignment, outcome and improvement, and 3) re-orient how improvement is practiced. Operation vs Investment Expenditures As noted above, needs play a prominent role […]

Rethink District Budgeting – Part I

In this essay, my colleague Dr. Tom Aberli and I discuss three forces that shape and influence district budget decisions. Next, we present how we can build on the existing infrastructure and processes with a new lens and framework to overcome the challenges brought about by those forces. This is a long essay and will be posted in two installments. In this first post, we discuss the three budgetary forces: 1) needs-based framework, 2) existing financial management practice, and 3) human nature. We welcome and appreciate your critiques and suggestions. Every winter, school and district leaders have the daunting task […]

Academic Return-on-Investment (AROI) and School Improvement

Three years ago, we started working on an IES funded research project in collaboration with Dr. Fiona Hollands at Teachers College of Columbia University and Dr. Robert Shand at American University. The goal was to explore: 1) whether A-ROI metrics, developed as a compromise between rigor and practicality, can be used to improve decision-making regarding education programs, and 2) how to embed A-ROI results into district operations through a Cycle-based Budgeting model. This report shares our lessons learned from that project. In this report, we talked about how we applied some of the lessons learned when developing a new version of our […]

CBB Toolkit Updates

Major updates were made to the Toolkit page. The page is now organized in five sections: Investment Tracking Tools Implementation Guides Decision Tools Conference Presentations Reports If you’d like to share your investment tracking forms and tools so that colleagues in other districts can benefit from your work, please contact me using the form below. Thanks!

End-of-cycle (EOC) Review

In this article, I explain what end-of-cycle review is about and how leaders can use the process to better manage program implementation and resource allocations. You might find this discussion on some key concepts of Cycle-based Budgeting helpful as a reference. You can also find an end-of-cycle review summary template with two examples on the CBB Toolkit page. End-of-cycle (EOC) is an opportunity created in cycle-based budgeting (CBB) to routinely scrutinize existing investment items for continuation and/or adjustments. When an item reaches its end of investment cycle, two things must take place. One is that the investment must be reviewed […]

An Idea for Shared Commitment & Ownership

THE CURRENT STATE During the annual budget process, one of the most important questions district leaders wrestle with is what new investments should be made to accomplish the district’s improvement priorities. With a few exceptions, the options generally originate from each individual department. First, department heads propose investments to address issues that are thought to be under their respective responsibilities. Then, the proposals are reviewed and decision are made by the superintendent and chief financial officer, with or without the involvement of the other senior leaders on the superintendent’s cabinet depending on the local context and nature of the proposals. […]

Strategies to Turn “Defense” into “Offense” in Budget Discussions

Association of School Business Officials International (ASBO) published a new School Business Minute. The minute is based on the presentation Strategies to turn from defense to offense I gave at the 2019 ASBO Annual Conference & Expo. If you are an ASBO member, you can search MM03 in the AC&E Session Recordings Library on the Global School Business Network to access the full recording.

Re-engineer Choice Architecture to Improve Budget Decisions

Each year, district leaders make many decisions about school and district finances. Hidden behind those myriad decisions is a choice architecture, which, explicitly or implicitly, defines and shapes leaders’ decision-making. Learning from behavioral economics, this article offers a new perspective to look at the functions and tasks school business officials (SBOs) perform in relation to the choice architecture and calls for rethinking the role SBOs can and should play in facilitating those decisions. Specifically, three essential components of choice architecture are highlighted: default, anchor, and framing. For each component, prevalent design features and their impact on budgetary decisions are discussed. […]