The Webster School District: Financial Interview
The planning and implementation of the budget or financial strategies in school districts is a challenging task because the budget of school districts depends on the local, state, and federal spending and resources (Nguyen-Hoang, 2012, p. 78). The budget cuts in even one of the financial sources can result in a variety of financial issues for a school district that can affect the overall quality of the education significantly (Barr & McClellan, 2010, p. 24; Flaherty, 2013, p. 146). From this point, school financial administrators are responsible for developing effective strategies in order to forecast possible challenges and address the financial issues in the most efficient manner. Therefore, school financial administrators are responsible for responding to the financial challenges, for developing and using appropriate safeguards, and for balancing the school district’s budget regarding the district’s mission and goals (Odden & Picus, 2008, p. 124). In this context, in order to understand how school financial administrators choose successful strategies to address financial issues, it is necessary to interview individuals who have the responsibility for deciding on the school districts’ budget. Kim Johnson is District Business Manager in the Webster School District who is responsible for performing the tasks of a school financial administrator. This paper aims to provide the results of the interview with Mrs. Johnson on the school financial issues and on the associated decision-making approaches that were used by District Business Manager in order to address the identified problems.
Overview of the Webster School District’s Financial Issues
Following the information provided by Mrs. Johnson on the budget of the Webster School District in 2012-2013 and 2013-2014 fiscal years, it is possible to identify the main financial problem associated with a range of other issues in the area. In 2011, the Webster School District focused on the implementation of the developed technology program involving the improvement of the management and library systems in the district’s schools. The project was launched in 2012, and the program was planned to be successfully implemented till the end of 2015. However, the implementation of the improvements for the technology, management, and library spheres needed significant financial resources, and District Business Manager faced a challenge of balancing the school district’s budget with the focus on the observed state budget cuts in 2012-2013 and 2013-2014 fiscal years (Nguyen-Hoang, 2012, p. 78; Phillips & Dorata, 2013, p. 20).
The problem was in the fact that the main funding sources for the projects were the local and state spending, and more than $532,000 was necessary to launch the project during the 2012-2013 fiscal year, and about $250,000 was necessary to develop the project according to the planned stages during the 2013-2014 fiscal year. In Wisconsin, the sum in about 50% of the budget proposed for school districts is covered by the state spending. About 40% of the funding is covered by local sources, and about 10% of the budget used by school districts is provided by the federal government (Reyes & Rodriguez, 2004, p. 4; Westfall, Peltier, Sheehan, & Weber, 2006, p. 44). These financial resources are distributed on a per-pupil basis, and the Webster School District receives the funding while depending on the number of pupils enrolled in the schools. In 2012-2013 and 2013-2014 fiscal years, the enrollment of students was minimal, 720 and 715 students accordingly, in comparison with the data for the previous years when 730-770 students were enrolled in the schools of the district. Furthermore, the general cuts in the state funding for 2012-2013 fiscal year were 10%, and they were 15% for 2013-2014 fiscal year. From this point, the designed projects were at risk of abandoning.
District Business Manager’s Approach to Decision-Making
The response of Kim Johnson as District Business Manager to the problem of revenue constraints and to the necessity of balancing the budget was influential for the administration of the Webster School District because it could affect the school district’s success not only in implementing the planned projects, but it also could affect the success in providing the quality services for students and compensations for teachers. In order to save the necessary financial resources for starting the process of the projects’ implementation, District Business Manager chose to reduce spending on the campus administration and on the support staff. The other important category for reducing the funding was the category of spending associated with the administrative staff. District Business Manager conducted the investigation in order to examine the correlation between the number of the teaching staff, the number of the administrative staff, the number of the support staff, and the number of students enrolled in the district schools and the number forecasted for the enrollment for the next three years.
It was found that the number of the support staff and administrative staff can be reduced because of possibilities for sharing responsibilities in order to address the needs of the current and forecasted number of teachers and students in the Webster School District. The main focus was on preserving the quality of education (Rolle, 2004, p. 277; Waggoner, 2009, p. 2). As a result, Mrs. Johnson did not discuss such spheres for reducing the spending as the instruction, student support services, and the teaching staff. In order to control the spending according to the new budget plan and to monitor the realization of the projects regarding the improvement of technology, management, and library systems, District Business Manager revised the auditing and reporting systems followed in the Webster School District.
Analysis of the Decision-Making Represented by District Business Manager
While answering the question regarding the efficient spending of the provided financial resources by the Webster School District, it is necessary to state that Kim Johnson as District Business Manager realized the effective approach to balancing the budget of the schools in order to avoid the reductions in the instruction spending and teaching staff. However, the decision of District Business Manager regarding the decrease of the administrative staff can be discussed as rather debatable. On the one hand, it is possible to evaluate the cuts in the administrative staff as rather efficient because of the necessity to correlate the administrative staff with the needs of the school district during the determined fiscal years (Collins, 2011; Deller, Maher, & Lledo, 2007, p. 201). On the other hand, the reduction of the administrative staff with the focus on the number of enrolled students can affect the further reductions in the number of teachers (Reyes & Rodriguez, 2004, p. 5). From this point, District Business Manager should focus on the needs of the school district during the concrete fiscal year and plan the reductions in the staff and spending accordingly.
The other challenge is associated with the reduction of the support staff. The ineffective distribution of spending and responsibilities can result in the negative consequences that can influence the overall administration of the Webster School District (Waggoner, 2009, p. 3). Nevertheless, it is possible to state that the efforts of District Business Manager regarding the improvement of the spending control system can be discussed as effective because Mrs. Johnson chose to revise the existing monitoring and reporting systems according to the needs of the project implementation process and according to the changes in the financial situation.
The interview with District Business Manager in the Webster School District helped to analyze the approaches that are usually used by school financial administrators in order to respond to the variety of the financial issues. During 2012-2013 and 2013-2014 fiscal years, the Webster School District faced a problem associated with the decreases in the state spending and with the necessity to implement three complicated and costly projects regarding the improvement of technology, management, and library systems. This interview demonstrated that District Business Manager was focused on preserving the quality of education in the school district while avoiding reductions in the sphere of instructional spending. Thus, fiscal constraints were addressed with the focus on reductions in the support and administrative staff. This decision can be discussed as rather effective in the context of the situation in the Webster School District, but the reductions in the administrative staff could lead to problems associated with the implementation of the designed projects. In spite of the fact that the decision of District Business Manager in the Webster School District led to the effective implementation of the planned projects, the approach selected by Mrs. Johnson can be discussed as rather risky.
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