Effective Financial Leader in Educational Sphere

Introduction

Leadership in education is important because it contributes to improving the students’ learning with references to changing the environment and approach to the instruction and administration. Furthermore, leadership is important in managing financial resources that are available for principals and superintendents in school districts because only successful leaders can determine educational priorities in accordance with the school’s strategic goals and reflect these priorities in the school district’s budget (Bird, Wang, & Murray, 2009, p. 141). In this context, the budget in the educational institution is a statement of available financial resources that are properly allocated according to the school district’s needs, budget priorities, and expected quality outcomes (Norton, 2013, p. 52). The process of budget development can become a challenge for a financial leader because of the necessity to address a lot of issues that are associated with balancing available resources and school district’s needs. In this context, a principal, superintendent or business manager responsible for making financial decisions in a school district should demonstrate remarkable leadership skills and the developed knowledge in the sphere while proposing his or her vision of the annual budget.

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Thus, an effective financial leader in the sphere of education should have developed competencies in planning and implementing the cost-effective budget that is correlated with the strategic goals of a school or school district. In this case, there is a positive correlation between the leader’s style, knowledge, capacities, and experience and the effectiveness of the planned and implemented school district’s budget. The problem is in the fact that currently, many financial leaders in school districts refer to the strategies that can be discussed as out-dated, and it is necessary to identify the best practices used by leaders in institutions in order to allocate resources, achieve high results, implement innovative projects, and improve the quality of education in a certain district (Barr & McClellan, 2010, p. 22). It is important to analyze the role of the financial leader in this context because principals and managers responsible for budget decisions directly influence the development of the path according to which the school district will develop during the following year.

When the leadership is effective, it is possible to observe the careful administration of material and financial resources that are necessary for supporting instruction and for improving opportunities for the students’ learning. Educational environments are not static, and financial leaders face a challenge of adapting the accessible resources to the school’s needs each year. The leaders’ successes are reflected in the proposed budgets, and they can be evaluated with references to the further outcomes (Reyes & Rodriguez, 2004, p. 4). Therefore, this paper aims to discuss the role of a leader in the budget development process; to provide the analysis of the impact of staffing on the budget development process; to describe the revenue sources; to summarize the key factors that can influence expenses; and to discuss the role of focus and discipline for budgeting in the educational institution. In order to support the idea that strong leadership positively influences the budget development and contributes to achieving positive outcomes in the educational process, it is necessary to refer to the example of the budget development in the Webster School District and analyze the aspects influencing the issue in detail.

Leadership in Budget Development Process

Leadership is an important aspect related to the budget development process in the sphere of education. School district principals, superintendents, and business or finance managers are those persons who propose and implement the effective budget that needs to address the school district’s strategic goals. Leaders in the sphere of school budgeting face a lot of challenges at all the stages of the budget development process (Norton, 2013, p. 67). As a result, effective financial leaders in education should have the specific knowledge and developed capabilities in order to address the issues. Before planning the budget, the financial leader faces the necessity to analyze the current financial situation in the school district, identify possible gaps, assess the level of dependence on the state funding, analyze changes in the state and local policies, and identify financial strategies to achieve the school district’s goals that are directly associated with budgeting (Maher & Skidmore, 2008, p. 432; Odden & Picus, 2008). Only an effective financial leader in education can respond to all these areas successfully.

The budget development process usually begins in September and ends in eleven months, when the planned budget model is prepared to be implemented for the next fiscal year. The whole process includes many steps associated with planning, discussion, implementation, and evaluation procedures. Thus, the financial leader is responsible for the completion of all the mentioned stages according to the policies developed by the school board and according to certain state and federal regulations (Barr & McClellan, 2010; Norton, 2013). Leadership is important because only a successful leader can correlate the public policies and available resources with the mission and goals of the school district. From this point, the completion of the budget development is a complex process that needs to be effectively controlled by a leader. While taking into account the changes in the current and predicted tax revenues for the school district, changes in the compensation policies, and any alternations in other policies associated with funding in school districts, a leader needs to make a decision on allocation of resources (Bird & Wang, 2011, p. 144; Reyes & Rodriguez, 2004, p. 4). The leader is expected to prepare the school district’s plan containing points on the administration, maintenance of human resources, curriculum and instruction, provision of pupil personnel services, provision of transportation, development of special education programs, and implementation of specific projects (Barr & McClellan, 2010, p. 24). A financial leader is successful when he is able to correlate the results of his analysis and propose the appropriate budget plan reflecting the above-mentioned aspects.

A leader should know various budget methods and understand differences between them in order to implement the variant that is most effective for the certain school district or institution. Effective leaders choose function-object budgeting or the specific outcome-focused budgeting models. The reason is that it is important for the educational institution to address such functions as administration, curriculum and instruction, human resources’ maintenance, students’ support, transportation, and implementation of specific education projects among others. The effective budget is based on determining priorities and balancing the spending to cover mentioned functions (Norton, 2013, p. 67). The outcome-focused budgeting model is associated with the effective distribution of responsibilities for implementing all the points of the budget plan in order to achieve the significant outcomes. Furthermore, leaders can choose from such types of budgeting as top-down budgeting, participatory budgeting, and iterative budgeting as the combination of the features of previous two types (Bird & Wang, 2010, p. 12). Referring to the experience of Kim Johnson, District Business Manager in the Webster School District, it is possible to state that iterative budgeting is the most effective budget method because it combines the advantages of top-down and participatory budgeting (K. Johnson, personal communication, January 5, 2015). On the one hand, top-down budgeting is effective because the financial leader is responsible for determining all points covered with the planned budget, and the staff only follows the proposed budget calendar and strategy. On the other hand, participatory budgeting is effective because the budget development process is directed with references to staff’s opinions and visions of possible gaps (Barr & McClellan, 2010; Norton, 2013). When the discussed models are followed separately, they do not guarantee high results.

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However, the effective financial leader should not only develop the appropriate budget plan and control the budget development process but also communicate clearly the role of the proposed budget plan for the effective realization of the school goals. In the Webster School District, Kim Johnson utilizes the outcome-focused budgeting approach because she advocates the necessity of the budget development that is focused on the school district’s needs and strategic goals. The main attention is to supporting curriculum and instruction and to implementing programs and projects that can contribute to the quality of the students’ education in the school district (K. Johnson, personal communication, January 5, 2015). Thus, assuming a key role of a leader in the budget development process, a principal or a business manager should communicate his or her vision, accentuate the school goals, and promote the participation and collaboration in order to contribute to the appropriate translation of the goals and objectives into the reality through the budget development process.

Impact of Staffing in Budget Development

Before starting the discussion of the impact of staffing in the budget development process, it is necessary to determine such two perspectives for focusing on the problem of staffing as the involvement of the staff in the actual budget development process and the budget impact of staffing decisions. The active involvement of staff in the budget development process is typical for the site-based and participatory or iterative budgeting models. It is important to state that the site-based budgeting is more characteristic for modern school districts in the United States. Such decentralization of the school district’s budgets allows focusing on the implementation of the budget plans and strategies that address the needs of students and staff in the district (Maher & Skidmore, 2008, p. 432; Odden & Picus, 2008). Contemporary financial leaders are inclined to give the staff a voice in order to make the effective decision as a result of focusing on the staff’s needs and opinions.

The proponents of the involvement of the staff in the budget development process point at such positive impact of the approach as the possibility to focus on the schools’ actual needs in order to increase learning opportunities for students because teachers can provide reasonable recommendations regarding the use and allocation of materials, supplies, and equipment necessary for improving instruction (Jacob & Lefgren, 2008, p. 104). Therefore, financial leaders in school districts should pay attention to the unique role of the staff at the needs-assessment stage of the budget development process. It is important to involve the staff in the process of selecting resources and their allocation because teachers can evaluate the effectiveness of using certain resources in the context of the concrete school district (Barr & McClellan, 2010; Waggoner, 2009, p. 2). From this perspective, leaders need to consult the staff before deciding on how financial resources can be spent in order to address the needs associated with teaching-learning materials and equipment.

Nevertheless, this approach also has the negative outcomes for the budget development process. There are often situations when teachers are focused only on the needs of their classes, and they cannot see the problem from the large perspective. Thus, the staff often has no vision that is characteristic for the financial leader in the sphere of education. The problem is in the fact that the strategic vision is important for planning the budget for the school district because the majority of aspects should be covered or adequately addressed, and it is a task of a leader to control the realization of this principle (Collins, 2011; Nir & Hameiri, 2014, p. 211). A situation, when the staff focuses on responding to the students or classes’ needs and a leader discusses these needs as of a lower budget priority, can result in a conflict. As a result, leaders need to focus on iterative budgeting that combines the elements of top-down and participatory budgeting in order to have an ability to control the role of the staff in the development of the school district’s budget (Barr & McClellan, 2010; Norton, 2013). Good financial leaders should involve the staff in working in the budget development process in order to develop the effective operating budget. In addition, the perfect leader should distribute responsibilities among the staff in order to concentrate on the idea of accountability and receive the expected positive budget outcomes (Bird et al., 2009, p. 141). Kim Johnson as the financial leader in the Webster School District notes that the secret is in the balance between the role of the leader in determining available finances and in communicating strategies, school needs, goals and the role of the staff in evaluating the needs of students (K. Johnson, personal communication, January 5, 2015). In addition, it is important for a financial leader to take responsibility for the balanced involvement of the staff in the budget development process and for distributing the duties among the staff adequately.

If the impact of staffing in the budget development process is usually positive and depends on the competence of a financial leader in determining and communicating priorities, the effects of such a leader’s decision as staff reductions can be unpredictable. The problem is in the fact that revenue constraints often make leaders decide on possible reductions in the staff in order to increase the percentage of the available funding for the other areas (Trainor, 2009, p. 45). When Kim Johnson faced the challenge of staff reductions because there were no necessary resources to complete the planned costly project in the Webster School District, she made the reasonable decision to reduce the number of the support staff and decrease the associated spending instead of focusing on reductions in the teaching staff (K. Johnson, personal communication, January 5, 2015). The reason was to avoid reductions that could affect the quality of the teaching-learning process. From this point, much attention should be paid to the role of the staff in developing the budget because a leader needs to make decisions on allocation of resources referring to the staff’s opinions and he also needs to make important decisions on the staff reductions.

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Where an Educational Organization Gets Revenue

While developing budgets for the following school year, financial leaders in school districts need to analyze the balance of the revenue sources that are predicted for the concrete fiscal year and to estimate the total amount of revenues to be received. In this case, the focus is on the major source of revenue in the concrete school district because this revenue mainly determines the budget limits. From this point, revenue in the sphere of education can be defined as the income that is received by a certain school district from different sources during the concrete year (Barr & McClellan, 2010, p. 12; Odden & Picus, 2008, p. 10). The success of the budget development conducted by the financial leader depends on the accurate revenue projection because the ability to project the amount of revenues and the major sources influences the quality and effectiveness of the developed budget.

Authorities and educational leaders determine five sources of revenue which are the federal, state, local, intermediate, and other sources. Federal sources of revenue can be discussed as the aid provided according to the federal programs and policies. In the United States, federal revenues represent the smallest percentage of the whole amount of revenues received by school districts. However, while comparing federal revenues in 2000-2001 and federal revenues in 2010–2011, it is necessary to state that the amount increased by more than 100% and these changes positively influenced the quality of education in school districts (Public school revenue sources, 2014). However, in 2012-2013, federal revenues decreased by more than 2%, and these changes indicated a kind of crisis in the federal budget policy followed for the sphere of education (Public school revenue sources, 2014). These federal revenues are usually represented in form of unrestricted or restricted grants-in-aid, where unrestricted aid can be used by principals according to the school district’s needs, and restricted grants-in-aid can be used only as categorical aids received to support different types of projects and programs such as, for instance, special education programs (Barr & McClellan, 2010). Federal revenues are usually minimal in the proportion of total revenues that are received by the school district.

State revenues are also represented in form of unrestricted and restricted grants-in-aid. These revenues are usually gained through taxes that are collected within the state, and then these revenues are proportionally distributed among school districts, depending on the district’s size. In the United States, state revenues increased by 6% in 2010–2011 in comparison with the data for the period of 2000-2001 (Public school revenue sources, 2014). If federal revenues are traditionally discussed as the smallest source of revenue for the U.S. education, state revenues represent the major source of revenues, on which the school’s budget depends (Phillips & Dorata, 2013, p. 20). The task of state authorities is to distribute the collected income among the school districts effectively, and financial leaders mainly refer to this source while making projections and developing the budget.

Local revenues are the income that comes from the community and activities of the school district. This source of revenue is also small because it cannot cover many budget areas (Norton, 2013; Odden & Picus, 2008). Local revenues come from local taxes of different types; from student activities that are associated with certain fees such as admission or sales of books; from transportation fees; from different types of donations; and from possible earnings on investments (Norton, 2013; Odden & Picus, 2008). From this point, the amount of local revenues depends on the economic status of the community because the development of the community influences the size of taxes and perspectives for donations and earnings on investments (Deller, Maher, & Lledo, 2007, p. 202). Although local revenues increased by 20% in 2010-2011 in comparison with the data for 2000-2001, in 2012-2013, the local revenues decreased by 2%, demonstrating the problems in the economic status of many communities in the country (Public school revenue sources, 2014). In spite of the fact that local revenues do not play the significant role in influencing the budget of a school district, increases and decreases in this income can affect the financial leaders’ estimations and development of strategies to address possible changes in spending.

In order to understand the role of the financial leader in projecting and estimating revenue sources for the effective budget development, it is necessary to refer to the example of the Webster School District. In spite of the fact that in Wisconsin, where the Webster School District is located, 70% of revenues comes from the state and the federal source is also more important than the local source of revenues, a different situation is observed in the discussed school district (Deller et al., 2007, p. 203; Wisconsin Association of School Boards, 2012, p. 4). The revenue from local sources is the most significant for the budget of school districts, and it is about $2,300,000, when the revenue from state sources is about $1,500,000. The smallest income is received from federal sources, and it is about $300,000 (Webster School District, 2014). That is why, the financial leader of this school district mainly focuses on the analysis of changes in the local economic situation and policies in order to predict the budget revenues for the next year (K. Johnson, personal communication, January 5, 2015). Discussing local revenues, the financial leader has the opportunity to arrange the budget for the school district according to the needs of the local community. In this context, intermediate sources of revenues as well as other types of revenues such as inter-fund transfers usually play an insignificant role in affecting the budget development process because these sources of income are discussed as additional ones, and it is almost impossible to predict their amount during the concrete school year.

A financial leader should pay much attention to analyzing changes in the policies and to predicting the amount of the revenues because these activities are intended to present the background for the budget development process. It is almost impossible to plan the budget for the next school year without taking into account changes in the amount of expected revenues (Bird & Wang, 2010, p. 12). An effective financial leader should be ready to propose a budget plan and a budget calendar that reflect possible restrictions in the income and explain what needs should be addressed in the first turn. Thus, it is relevant to speak about the best practices of a successful leader when this person effectively addresses the identified challenges and budget restrictions.

Key Factors that Impact Expenses

Several factors can influence costs or expenses in the school district, and these factors should be predicted and addressed by the financial leader in order to avoid further negative consequences. Administrative costs that should be taken into consideration before the planning of the annual budget are supplies, materials, purchased services, resources for projects, special programs, salaries, benefits, and expenses associated with governing the school district’s administration (Odden & Picus, 2008; Rolle, 2004, p. 278; Trainor, 2009, p. 44). The financial leader in education often needs to analyze the discussed costs and focus on balancing the budget with references to the identified issues. The process of balancing the budget depends on determining key factors that can impact the distribution of the spending and possible changes in expenses.

The key factors influencing expenses in educational institutions include the number of students, the staff number, changes in compensations, and isolation of the school district. Projecting the student enrollment, the leader can predict the number of students that can influence the costs in the school district. The problem is in the fact that per-pupil administrative costs depend on the actual number of students enrolled during a certain school year. High costs are typical for school districts that usually enroll fewer than 600-700 students (Wisconsin Association of School Boards, 2012, p. 2). Kim Johnson, who is responsible for planning the budget in the Webster School District, states that their schools are usually at risk of increasing the annual costs in more than 15% because the number of students decreases each year, and the usual enrollment is about 720 students (K. Johnson, personal communication, January 5, 2015). In contrast, low per-pupil administrative costs are typical for the large school districts, where the annual student enrollment is more than 2,000 students (Wisconsin Association of School Boards, 2012, p. 3). From this point, the number of students affects the spread of the costs in the school district. If the number of students is high, it is possible to spread costs across more students and cover expenses (Odden & Picus, 2008, p. 24). In addition, the financial leader needs to address the problem of unexpected changes in the number of students. If the leader’s predictions regarding the student enrollment are not relevant, the school district can experience significant budget constraints.

The number of the staff is the other key factor that can affect expenses in the school district. If the number of teachers changes each year while increasing the levels of the staff turnover, this fact negatively influences the school district’s costs. On the one hand, the high level of staff turnover has the negative impact on administrative expenses because of the increases in the recruitment costs. On the other hand, a small school district usually cannot balance effectively those compensation costs that are associated with long periods of retaining the teaching staff (Reyes & Rodriguez, 2004, p. 5). The financial leader should demonstrate his or her experience in projecting the needs of the school district in order to balance the administrative costs effectively (Waggoner, 2009, p. 4). However, it is possible to reduce costs associated with spending for the support staff. Many financial leaders in the sphere of education indicate that operating expenses that are traditional for the support personnel intend to increase each year. Thus, it is possible and important to reduce expenses while managing the budget associated with the administration of bus drivers, counselors, or nurses’ work.

The other important factor is the isolation of the school district in relation to the community. Administrative costs in isolated rural school districts are usually higher in comparison with the costs that are characteristic for the urban school districts (Wisconsin Association of School Boards, 2012, p. 3). The problem is in the fact that rural school districts are usually small, and the administrative costs per pupil are in 35% higher in these districts than in the urban ones (Public school revenue sources, 2014). That is why, it is important to pay more attention to the budget plans of school districts in rural communities because there are many environmental factors that can influence the approach to distributing the funding or revenues in order to address the schools’ basic needs. In this context, isolation of the school district is directly connected with the factor of per-pupil spending that is usually lower in small and isolated districts. The problem is in the fact that a financial leader can develop an effective strategy to address the issue of the lack of spending, but it is rather difficult to overcome the identified external influential factors in order to achieve high results and improve the quality of education in the certain school district.

The Role of Focus and Discipline for Budgeting

Effective financial leaders in the sphere of education need to be focused on the institutions’ specific goals and mission. Therefore, the budget development process depends on the activities and planning selected for the realization of the certain vision promoted by a school leader. In this case, the concepts of focus and discipline are important to be discussed in detail. Most efficient and competent financial leaders state that the budget should be focused, and the principles of the fiscal discipline should be followed in order to achieve the high results (Bird & Wang, 2011, p. 144; Maher & Skidmore, 2008, p. 432; Norton, 2013, p. 112). From this perspective, the idea of the focused budget is associated with the necessity for a leader to have the focus on goals or outcomes according to which a principal chooses the strategy for the budget development process. A budget is focused when the vision is clearly communicated to the staff and other stakeholders, when desired goals are formulated, and when the budget is balanced in order to achieve certain outcomes (Bird et al., 2009, p. 141). When the budget is focused, it can be easily realized because it is developed to reach expected goals. In this situation, discipline, and especially fiscal discipline, is discussed as the financial leader’s ability to realize and control the financial operations and budget in order to achieve the certain results (Phillips & Dorata, 2013, p. 20; Wisconsin Association of School Boards, 2012, p. 2). A good financial leader should not only plan and implement the budget according to the identified needs of the school district, but he or she should also be disciplined to follow the developed budget strictly and manage it in accordance with the certain policy.

The role of focus and discipline in the budgeting process is important because only when the budget is focused, it can be discussed as effective to be implemented within a certain educational institution. In addition, discipline of a leader and those persons who are responsible for realizing the budget development process is important because budgets need to be effectively linked to the schools’ objectives, and the provided resources should be efficiently distributed and used. One of the tasks performed by a financial leader is to determine persons who can use the provided budget or resources for the realization of the school’s goals more productively (Bird & Wang, 2010, p. 12; Nir & Hameiri, 2014, p. 212). In this case, discipline is important not only in relation to the principal or other financial leader in the educational institution but also in relation to the other persons who perform administrative and managerial tasks because they are responsible for the efficient utilization of resources purchased in accordance with the set budget limits (Norton, 2013, p. 58). It is important to note that the leaders’ capacities to cope with the issue of budget limits are also necessary to be discussed in the context of the focused budget and fiscal discipline in the educational institution.

During the recent years, the focus in the education sphere on inputs has changed to the focus on outputs. This change can be discussed as advantageous for both educational leaders and students because a new focus provides more opportunities for achieving the educational institutions’ strategic goals. The main focus is on the performance of students and on quality of the programs implemented in institutions (Bird & Wang, 2010, p. 12; Rolle, 2004, p. 279). Therefore, this approach can be discussed as the background for the outcome-focused budget model in education. Monitoring regularly the effectiveness of this approach for the concrete school district, it is also possible to address the idea of discipline in the context of the school budgeting.

From this perspective, the example of following the ideas of focus and discipline in the school district is the development and realization of the outcome-focused budget (Bird & Wang, 2010, p. 12; Norton, 2013, p. 67; Odden & Picus, 2008). Thus, the outcome-focused budget is followed in many school districts of Wisconsin (Deller et al., 2007, p. 210; Maher & Skidmore, 2008, p. 432; Wisconsin Association of School Boards, 2012, p. 3-4). In the Webster School District, the outcome-focused budget is selected because the leaders are oriented to the production of certain outcomes (Webster School District, 2014). This type of a budget can be discussed as a focused one because the budget is planned and balanced in order to achieve definite goals and objectives that are declared along with the school district’s mission. For instance, in the Webster School District, District Business Manager chooses to plan the budget focused on achieving outcomes while linking available resources and strategic goals and while setting fixed terms for the realization of the budget plan (K. Johnson, personal communication, January 5, 2015). As a result, the principles of focus and discipline can be discussed as being addressed through the accentuation of the outcomes and strategies to achieve the set goals.

Conclusion

Having analyzed the role of a financial leader in developing the budget for the educational institution, it is possible to state that effective leaders are responsible for making decisions while referring to the idea of cost-effectiveness (Odden & Picus, 2008; Rolle, 2004). The problem is in the fact that the volume of revenues spent on school districts changes each year, and it is difficult to make relevant projections. In spite of the fact that the total revenues in the sphere of school education increased during last ten years, federal and state revenues tend to decrease, as it is observed with references to statistics on recent years (Public school revenue sources, 2014). As a result, a financial leader needs to continuously adapt to the changes in funding in order to develop the successful budget and contribute to the increase of the quality of instruction. From this point, decisions made by those school leaders who plan the budget should be cost-effective and address the current situation in the school district.

Therefore, an effective leader is responsible for the efficient use of financial and material resources. If the allocation decision that is made by the leader in the educational institution is not efficient and it does not respond to the school district’s needs and strategic goals, it is rather difficult to rely on the positive outcomes during the following school year. The reason is that the budget should be focused on and oriented to gaining set outcomes. Today, the orientation to inputs is not working, and a task of a good financial leader is to distribute the available budget effectively in order to receive expected outcomes (Nir & Hameiri, 2014). The per-pupil spending can become a challenge for the leader, but an effective principal or business manager addresses this issue while properly developing the budget that is based on projected and available revenues and desired outcomes. In this case, more attention should be paid to prioritizing needs and to covering those areas that directly contribute to improving the students’ learning experiences. Even while being oriented to the effective distribution of spending and responsibilities among the staff in order to meet educational standards, it is necessary to develop strategies that serve to raise local revenues. In this case, an effective leader works to improve the connection with the community and attracts stakeholders in order to increase the available income.

An effective financial leader in the sphere of education should have developed competencies in making budget decisions and in stating how many resources should be spent on instruction, technologies, projects, educational programs, and on the school staff in order to address the needs of students and achieve accountability. Thus, a role of financial leader in the budget development process is extremely significant, and the strategy or approach selected by the leader to develop the budget influences directly the quality of instruction and response to the students and staff’s needs during the following school year. Much attention should be paid to practices that can help the leader develop the budget that is both adequate and efficient. As a result, the effective budget that is proposed by a leader is focused on outcomes, and it is planned, implemented, and controlled by a principal or business manager with references to the idea of discipline.

References

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