Defining budgeting processes and priorities

Your team should consider several important questions before defining its budgeting process and priorities.

1. What kind of budget autonomy does your team wish to pursue?

Issues to consider include:

  • Does your team want to seek autonomy to allocate the school’s entire budget, including the formula for salaries and benefits?
  • To get that autonomy, are you willing to design and run a charter school?
  • Does your team want to keep teachers’ salaries and benefits within the formula agreed on in the collective bargaining agreement (knowing that, in exchange, your team will get significantly less budget autonomy)? Often, teams that choose this arrangement benefit from support provided by the school district (such as payroll administration and food and transportation contracts). However, choosing this option means the team will control only a small amount of discretionary funds. Your team must decide if the benefits of such an arrangement outweigh the costs.
  • Does your team want to secure autonomy to allocate discretionary funds only? If so, how can you negotiate to free up as much discretionary funding as possible?

These decisions may depend on whether your team can achieve its goals with partial budget autonomy. It’s also possible that your team has strong feelings about creating change within or beyond the district.

2. What process will your team use for allocating and approving the annual budget?

Many teams have a leader or committee (selected by and accountable to the whole team) who drafts the budget in line with the team’s shared purpose and budgeting priorities. Then, the team discusses and asks for adjustments before voting to approve the final budget (which is ratified by the school’s board). Will this process work for your team? If not, what will?

3. How will your team ensure your school gets the income it needs to be sustainable?

  • How is enrollment related to the financial sustainability of the school (regardless of whether you have full budget autonomy)?
  • Will you seek grants for supplemental funding? For start-up funding? Who will be responsible for pursuing this?
  • If there is a formal arrangement for the teacher-powered team (e.g. the team has organized itself under the law as a cooperative, partnership, or LLC), will the team receive income from the school board in a lump sum?
  • If there is not a formal arrangement, how will state funding flow into the school?

4. How will your team set priorities for spending?

  • How will spending priorities support your team’s shared purpose?
  • How will your team ensure you are meeting federal, state, and local spending requirements?

Resources

Budgeting priorities and processes used in existing teacher-powered schools

Report.

This report examines the economics of two teacher-powered charter schools, finding both schools expand definitions of achievement and improve student outcomes without increased costs.

Book.

Chapter 11 explores how teacher-powered schools can make budget trade-offs to meet the needs of the students they serve.

Budgeting 101

Presentation.

This Afton Partners presentation covers school budgeting basics as well as information about how to align your school budget with your instructional priorities. There is also information about lessons learned from new school start-ups.

Sample budget and financial documents

Budget and Financial Audits.

The Avalon School team publicly posts its budget and financial audit statements.

Budget and Financial Audits.

Scroll down to the "Administration" links for a sample budget showing the categories to which the High Marq team allocates its funds as well as how they calculate annual per pupil amounts.