School Business Affairs September 2018

10 SEPTEMBER 2018 | SCHOOL BUSINESS AFFAIRS being conceptually straightforward, alignment can be difficult to apply because of a lack of communication in defining organizational priorities. For example, “student learning” as an organizational priority is so general that the case can be made that almost any program can be aligned with it. In contrast, increas- ing the recruitment of minority teachers is a specific priority against which district personnel can easily assess a program’s alignment. The more specific the organizational pri- orities, the easier it is to assess align- ment of program funding decisions. Factor 2. Evidence of Impact District leaders are expected to invest limited resources in programs that are effective. However, many districts lack the capacity to criti- cally review the research literature to identify proven adoptable programs or to evaluate their own programs rigorously. Ideally, districts could evaluate a program’s impact by reviewing student performance before and after implementation to determine whether outcomes recommend accepting or rejecting the program. The best way to gather such evi- dence is to assign students randomly to a “treatment” group where they participate in a program and to a “control” group where they don’t participate. ACCOUNTING AND BUDGETING E ach year, district and school leaders must adjust their budgets to ensure that lim- ited resources are used most effectively in achieving the organiza- tional mission. Those district leaders often face the dilemma of funding a limited number of new programs or discontinuing existing ones. Such decisions have high stakes, not only because they involve hun- dreds of thousands—or even mil- lions—of dollars but also because they have a lasting effect and broader implications for program- ming, personnel, and students. Effective decisions send a clear signal to the school system and the community about what those leaders consider important. In con- trast, poor decisions can damage morale and the culture and cripple leaders’ effectiveness and authority. Even worse, poor decisions waste resources and energy that could have been spent elsewhere to students’ advantage. Despite the significance of budget- ary decisions, many districts lack the necessary organizational infrastruc- ture for making sound, informed decisions about which programs to fund or defund. Six factors can help decision makers evaluate each budget item in a fair, transparent manner. Factor 1. Alignment with Organizational Priorities During budget discussions, align- ment is often a basis for decisions about program funding. Does the program align with the district’s mission, stated goals, strategic plan, and current priorities? Despite To Fund or to Defund: Making the Hard Decisions Six factors that can help SBOs evaluate budget items in a fair, transparent manner. By Bo Yan and Fiona Hollands I BELIEVE I CAN FLY/SHUTTERSTOCK.COM