We have recently completed 3 of the 4 sessions with our Academy Fellows in ISPA. serving as lead faculty member and coordinating the studies of our Academy Fellows has been very rewarding. I continue to marvel at the ironies of our work–and the passions exhibited by school leaders ready to step up to bigger challenges for kids and educators. Two key take-aways from this month’s sessions with our Fellows are as follows:
1. It appears that school systems across our Nation are beginning to wrestle with ways in which budgets can better serve students and schools. District 300 in Illinois, for example through the leadership of Michael Bregy and his school board are using their Educational Program Review Technique (EPRT) to study with their educational leaders and communities, the ROI (return on investment) of many budget line items to determine how they can work toward their goals for kids and reduce costs. Michael’s presentation to our cohort members was instructive, engaging, and inspiring.
2. Cedric Lewis, CFO for Rockford IL Schools presented to our classes his techniques for supporting his superintendent and school board members in building community support for the tough budget decisions ahead, and how to best protect their classrooms from the imminent and dire cuts to come.
I am struck by how well, we as educators can solve these severe financial circumstances with which we are faced. At the same time, it is disappointing that in far too many places we do not do a better job of building political will and strong financial navigational practices in less-dire, and good economic times.
When confronted with perpetual financial challenges in the Christina School District (Wilmington, DE) starting with notice a few days before starting my new position that there was a chance the district would not make its summer payroll–it was easy to build political and community support to do what it took to stabilize finances there. After we solved the immediate crisis and the pressure was then less dire, it was much more difficult to get state leaders and local community members to do what it took to fix the funding formulas and other financial practices to help ensure no other catastrophes would not later emerge.
If we care about our school kids, and we care about our schools, we will learn to effectively navigate finances, and particularly in managing budgets and EXPENDITURES in good-and in bad-times. It takes political will and courageous leadership from superintendents, school boards, and key staff.