Budget Decision


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. […]


How to Discontinue Programs That Are No Longer Viable?

I was kindly asked by Allovue to write a blog piece for the Budget and Resources framework of Future Ready Schools. In this piece, I first discuss the root causes of some common challenges leaders face when they try to discontinue or downsize programs that are no longer viable, and then explain how cycle-based budgeting can help address those challenges. My colleague Mr. Stephen Leach contributed to this piece. A special thank you goes to Ms. Autumn Dorsey at Allovue for the editorial improvements. A vital function of the annual school district budgeting process is to identify programs and expenditures […]


Response to Readers: How to Address the “It’s all for kids so it is all important” Mentality

From a reader I am a business official in Arizona and I really enjoyed your article in the September ASBO International School Business Affairs publication. I agree with much of the process you described in the article. I have been working for school districts for over 20 years and have always struggled with the program prioritization process. I often run into the “it’s all for kids so it is all important” mentality. Unfortunately, when you try to use quantitative data alone you also get skewed results.  I was wondering if you could share more detail about how you implement this process? Thank you in advance […]


Ten Key Concepts of Cycle-based Budgeting — Part I

Cycle-based Budgeting (CBB) is built on ten key concepts, which you will see throughout this web site and in the toolkit. You can use these ten terms to help explain to your colleagues what CBB is about, why it can be helpful, and how to do it.  Due to its length, this post is divided into two parts. In this part, the following five key concepts are presented: Budget as Investment Investment Item Investment Item Owner Investment Cycle Expected Return BUDGET AS INVESTMENT Differentiating certain budget items as investments sets the conceptual foundation for approaching those financial resources differently.  A school […]


How to Prioritize Programs for Funding Decisions?

This article was written in collaboration with Dr. Fiona Hollands, Associate Director and a Senior Researcher for the Center for Benefit-Cost Studies of Education at Teachers College, Columbia University. It appears in the September 2018 issue of School Business Affairs, published by the Association of School Business Officials International. PDF version download Each year during the budget season, district and school leaders have the opportunity to make budgetary adjustments to make sure limited resources are used both effectively and efficiently to help achieve the organizational mission. Of the myriad types of budget adjustments, one leaders frequently face has to do with selecting a limited […]


Empower Leaders to Make Strong Budget Decisions by Improving System Deficiencies

This article appears in the January 2018 issue of School Business Affairs, published by the Association of School Business Officials International. Please note that the article was originally written in September of 2017. Click on this link to download the published version.    As stewards of the taxpayer money, district leaders often take most, if not all, of the blame for not using those tax dollars effectively and efficiently to improve student outcomes. What the public does not always recognize and appreciate, however, is how difficult it is for district leaders to make informed budget decisions and how much they […]


A Decision Tool and Two Decision Rules

Acknowledgement: the author thanks Dr. Buchanan for his critiques that helped improve this post.   The CBB Decision Tool has been uploaded to the Toolkit. This tool is intended for two purposes: ⚑ Provide two simple but powerful data points for making program funding decisions ▸ Cost per pupil ▸ Total number of programs a cost center will be implementing concurrently ⚑ Play what-if scenarios to see the resulting implications for budget and program implementation CONTEXT Ideal School District adopted CBB in 15-16 school year. After two years of implementation, 9 CBB-accounted programs totaling $21.98 million will reach the end […]


Setting Funding Priorities: What Does It Mean and How to Get It Done

As the year of 2017 is winding down, many districts will soon be or have been engaged in budget discussions for the 18-19 school year. One phrase that people will hear and probably use a lot is “funding priorities”. In this article, I discuss several confusions around funding priorities and lay out a path to successfully setting funding priorities that lead to strong budget decisions. FUNDING PRIORITIES What they are At the core of funding priorities are areas on which investment should be focused, such as equity, arts and music, culture and climate, and so on. This core should to […]