I want to tell a story that illustrates a problem that hinders many school leaders. Recently, I was coaching a principal, and he was sharing the difficulty he was having finding effective teachers to help turnaround the urban school he led. This school was a magnet, restart model district school that had a great vision, but he struggled to recruit and employ effective teachers. He also noted that he was also struggling with balancing his time so that he could support and coach his current staff, many of whom are within their first three years in the profession. Despite additional county resources and strategic partnerships awarded to his school, he noted how tight the budget was and expressed concern about having very little wiggle room. I asked him, “Well, what would you do if you had a $100,000 to work with?”

He paused to think for 30 seconds and said, “I would definitely hire some teachers to focus on interventions.”

I replied, “I want to make sure I am following you, so please correct me if I misheard you. Didn’t you just say you were having difficulty finding good teachers and also finding time to develop them? How would increasing the number of teachers on your staff solve your current problems?”

A Framework

I am a huge fan of Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University. In fact, my family uses it for our household budget, and I use it in my business. Dave stresses that by budgeting each month you ensure that every single dollar has a purpose. Hmmm, every dollar has a purpose? That would mean as the school leader or chief financial officer you would need to know where every dollar went and what is it that brings the greatest return back to the organization to reach the mission-based goals. These mission-based goals should serve the school’s purpose and answer the question, “Why does your school exist?” The school’s mission must answer that question. Your mission-based goals should have a major impact on your school’s budget. More precisely, your goals should drive your strategic planning and operational roadmap.

If this leader believed that an interventionist, a smaller adult to student ratio, or specific training would be the keys to the school’s success, it should’ve been a budgeting priority; it should not be a wish. Or maybe he needed to study the problems in more detail to evaluate the possible solutions? The only way you will know as a leader is by evaluating the current reality and using data to know for sure, not think you know, what is working. Then pour resources into that initiative until the data tells you otherwise.

Sadly, that leader ended up leaving that school and was never able to figure out how to best leverage the resources. Even when given the opportunity to spend $100k, this principal didn’t apply it to the problems he outlined as his biggest concerns. It’s as if he is convinced that he is stuck where he is and more adults is the only answer. As a leader, every single dollar in the budget is within your control. By aligning your goals and your spending with the school’s mission, vision and purpose, you’ll have a process to hire the right people who are able to execute the mission and create programming that will bring that mission to life.

A Short Assessment

As a school leaders or board members, how would you respond to these questions?

  1. Is our mission and vision clear enough to be a source of goals?
  2. Have we written goals?
  3. Do we have a plan (on-paper) in place to reach those goals?
  4. Do we discuss our budget in terms of the plan?

If you answered “Yes” to these four questions, then the result would be that your budget would specifically align to the items that are MOST important to achieving the plan. Right?

If you don’t have a clear plan in place to effectively operate the school, then I doubt you have a plan in place to ensure your budget aligns to your overall purpose with every dollar having a clear purpose.

Some Reflection

Both success and failure can be traced back directly to your habits. This is the perfect time of the school year to take a deep dive into your current programming and expenditures. Consider these questions:

  • What programs or initiatives are taking you closer towards your goals?
  • Which ones are not? Anything that is not, KILL it, and shift those funds and resources into the programs that are. Start building next year’s budget today by asking yourself,
  • What is most important to our school’s success?
  • What is it that your teachers need to improve student achievement?
  • What do our students need to be and feel successful.

The answers to these questions are where your budget begins, not ends. This blog was written by Dr. Thomas Miller, business owner and human behavior consultant for school leaders everywhere. If this blog helped you please share with colleagues. To strengthen your budgeting practices, check out our 5 Strategies for Fiscal Success. For further resources and strategies visit Tom’s website at LBLeaders.com.

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