Things They Don’t Tell You About the School District Budget

In every election cycle, there are people running for the school board who want to cut everything that is not tied down. In the current zeitgeist in which we operate, it is fashionable to speak about cutting taxes, teachers, administrators, salaries, benefits, as well as the always mysterious “Frills” and lest we forget, the omnipresent, and equally mysterious and unexplained “Fat”. This article speaks principally to teachers, but briefly, to aspiring school board members who approach the endeavor with a cut everything -Tea Party- teachers are stealing money- administrators are on the “take” agenda. Here’s the first bit of unsettling news: Almost 96% of a school district’s budget is encumbered with things that cannot be cut- these are fixed costs. This means that an idea as simple as cutting taxes, for example, almost never happens. This is because the school district needs some things to function. Here is a short list: Electricity, Water, Natural Gas, Heating Oil, Gasoline, Produce, Baked Goods, Printers, Paper, Computers, Service Contracts for equipment and technology, Liability and other Insurances, books, legal services, accounting services, Maintenance, repair, and replacement of current infrastructure and equipment, to name a few.

Then, there is debt service…that’s right folks, without the borrowing of money and bond issues which require payback for example, there would be no school buildings, roads, police, snow removal, you know, all of those nasty “big government” things that it is so fashionable to hate right now. Hold on, there’s more- approximately 75% of the district budget is encumbered by contracts for personnel- that is, teachers, guidance counselors, administrators, secretaries, custodians, cafeteria employees, coaches, support staff, security, etc. That leaves you with about 4% of the budget that you can actually “play” with as a new board member which is why every June, there is a lot of saber- rattling about ending the interscholastic sports program- which fills the room with angry taxpayers. Besides sports, new Social Studies textbooks can always be postponed for another year- this does not fill the room with angry taxpayers as much as the threat to end sports, but textbooks, chalk, crayons, and a variety of “student things” can be trimmed, but then the fun is over. Are you sure you want this job on the School Board if there will be no actual substantial cuts that can be made? What fun will that be if you are a Tea Party aficionado? There are many superintendents who will confidentially tell you how in every election cycle they have to save eager-to-make-cuts- new board members from themselves as they learn the realities, and legalities of the school district budget.

Now, as for teachers, let’s begin with the budget calendar. The fiscal year for most school districts begins on July 1, and ends on June 30. This is why, for example, the district will fill all of their oil tanks on June 30- the last day of the current heating oil contract- because a price rise will be happening in the next cycle. Anyway, you are asked to think about what you would like to order for next year, either as an individual or as a department, in November and December. That means that if you come up with a great idea for a new piece of equipment any time in the year and you did not order it in the November-December time frame to be included in the budget for the next fiscal year, you are out of luck- maybe…and we will talk about “maybe” shortly. Then the requests from all departments usually have to be into the office secretary around the middle of December to early January.The Principal of your building then reviews all of the budget requests, makes sure that the requests do not exceed your departments allotment and the building’s grand total, and he then submits the proposed building budget to the Business Manager perhaps around Valentine’s Day. The Business Manager then adds up all of the requests- including the amount needed to deal with negotiated raises in personnel contracts- new staff that will be needed and makes projections about how much money in new taxes might be required to make this budget a reality.

Then in March and early April, the Superintendent will have a meeting with all administrators and the business manager to discuss the financial “woes” of the district. Sometimes this requires the administrators all to make a symbolic 10% cut in everything that is not a contracted for item- across the board. Then in April-May-June, the Business Manager and the Superintendent give the “bad news” for the coming year to the School Board who reviews everything- sometimes line by line and asks questions about why the district needs some of the things that are being requested. The following typical question came from one elderly board member once upon a time who wanted to know why the Industrial Arts Department needed 4 new hand sanders each year when he had “the same sander from Sears for the last 30 years and it works fine, dammit”… patiently, the Superintendent reminded the board member that these sanders were used every period of almost every school day for close to 180 days and he-the board member might use his 2-3 times per year, thus, by the same measuring stick, the school sanders were getting 300 years of work in the same time frame as his 30 year old sander. Learn to appreciate your Superintendent- he has to listen to a lot of questions like this and still keep a smile on his face- while the board member asking the question is praised for his or her financial brilliance.

Finally, sometime in May or June, and occasionally at midnight on June 30, the board passes the school budget and life goes on in your school district for another year. Now, this begs the question about the word “maybe” that was used earlier in the article to provide you with a shred of hope that an idea that is urgent and may cost the district money won’t have to wait till next year. Let’s begin the discussion with a question. What does the concept of “Fairness” mean when we speak about the way in which your principal treats staff members? In a legal sense, the building administrator must adhere to the contract. Thus, if some teachers get a duty-free period and others do not, that is unfair, but more importantly, it is illegal. A grievance would be filed and the school district would lose because the contract states that all teachers must have a duty-free period each day. If you are a teacher in the building, it does not matter whether you are the best teacher or the worst teacher, you get the contracted for salary, raises, benefits, etc. Fairness is beside the point.

The “Fairness” being addressed below is the humanistic kind, which is to say, “You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours”, or as Hannibal Lector aptly put it, “Quid pro quo Agent Starling- I told you what you wanted toknow, now you tell me what I want to know.” So, if you are being nice to me, I am going to be nice to you is the humanistic rather than legalistic interpretation of “Fairness”. A boss can be nice to anyone he wants to be nice to as long as he is operating within the dictates of the contract. Even the Bible Book of Galatians speaks about the fruits of the spirit and it states that Kindness is one of them. After the list of “fruits”, Galatians adds, “against these (like Kindness, Goodness, Mercy, etc.) there is no law!” That means that if I, as principal, seem nicer to one person than another, I can do that because there is no law against it- it is not a part of a negotiated agreement. People can’t be taken to court for showing kindness selectively.

What’s the bottom line? Simply this, your boss almost always has extra money to give out to various teachers who come up with creative ideas or materials that would benefit the children in the school and provide you with needed assistance. How do you get this money? You get it by being nice to your boss- by saying yes to that favor he asks of you to do bus duty on a day when the regularly scheduled person is not available. You come in to see him and besides asking him how he and his family are doing (because no one ever does) you proactively ask how you can be of help in that upcoming big parent night or awards ceremony. It’s called helping to “Row the Boat”. Where are we going with this? It’s not complicated. Your principal has money up till at least February to give out to deserving people and the money and amounts he gives out have nothing to do with a contract but everything to do with being kind to people who have been kind to the boss- who have helped him to “row the proverbial boat.” The money will not be given to crabby, negative, quick- on- the- trigger complainers and grievance filers. How do you get this money?

Here is a unspoken part of the budgeting process that occurs in every school- no one will ever tell you this, so take good notes! All of the money in a school’s budget begins in some category. Examples include: General Supplies(staples, chalk, magic markers, etc.), Contracted-for services ( the people who come in in an expensive suit and white shirt and tie to fix the ink covered copier) New Equipment, Replacement Equipment, Field Trips, etc. Now the intrigue starts…In January, the Principal gets a call from the Business Manager and the Business Manager tells the Principal that any money not yet spent is going to be returned to the district funds by, for example February 14. As of today, (January 4, for example) all of the remaining monies will be transferred to the Principal’s account (often called “Office of the Principal” in budgeting parlance) and the categories that the money was in will be zeroed-out for the year. The Business Manager has to look good for his boss too, and if he can recover some funds from each building that went unspent (and there is always money that goes unspent), these can be added to the fund balance for the following year and the taxes won’t have to be raised as much.

This is one of the few “pats on the back” that a Business Manager gets and it is important to him. However, being that he or she is such a nice person, they tell the principals that they have 3-4 weeks in which to do what they would like with the money- within reason, and provided that the Business manager gets half or more of the remaining funds back. This is where you, who have dutifully “rowed the boat” for the good of the cause make an appearance in the Principal’s office to make a modest request for funds for your special project. There is even an exact date to do this- we’ll call it January 15. It is guaranteed that the principal will have some money to KINDLY give out at this time- but there won’t be enough for everybody, and “Fairness” in this instance will not be based on what the contract says. You won’t be able to file a grievance if your next-classroom neighbor gets the money he or she needs and you do not.

We will allow a “word to the wise” to be sufficient here. If you need more information, buy a copy of Machiavelli’s “The Prince”. It only costs five dollars and is about 110 pages long. If you replace the word “Prince” each time it appears with “Principal” you will receive a useful education about the politics of a school and school district.

Schools’ Targets For Behaviour Standards Are Wrong!

We live in an age of targets — doesn’t seem to matter what the real outcome of professional activity is as long as something’s happened to enable a box to be ticked!

Doesn’t seem to matter that the targets are pretty pointless either…

What’s this to do with the world of managing children’s challenging behaviour in school? Plenty…

A couple of weeks after starting to work with a child, there’s a meeting with school and parents to see how they think things are progressing. Any concerns are discussed and all the parties can air their views. There has been close contact with school during these initial weeks to check daily on the child’s behaviour in school so any problems can be addressed immediately. This is essential to avoid any delay in addressing a problem. The children have to realise the adults are communicating and are aware of what’s going on…

At this first review meeting we discuss the child’s IEP (individual education plan), a document schools produce and update each term. On the form, targets for problem areas are identified and the steps to be taken in an attempt to rectify the situation. This is largely a pointless exercise — yet another instance of form filling in and box ticking. Why? Because of the way schools are advised to determine the targets, particularly when related to managing challenging behaviour.

Schools often ask what targets they should include — sorry, but they’re asking the wrong person! The fact is that the advice schools are given about how to gauge appropriate targets for individual children are totally at odds with the real world — especially when dealing with behaviour problems!

Schools are advised to adopt a step by step approach to dealing with problem behaviour but managing challenging behaviour just doesn’t work that way. It’s no surprise that schools are so frustrated when dealing children’s behaviour!

So, what are schools advised to aim for when dealing with children’s behaviour problems?

An example may see a child may have a problem with swearing — not an uncommon problem. Some language heard in schools would make your eyes pop out!

Schools are advised to make the target for reducing swearing to perhaps — ‘for the child to be in class for half an hour and limit swearing to no more that 3 times…’

Oh dear me! It’s practically saying that swearing 3 times is fine. Don’t think so!

How about if a child’s problem is related to putting insufficient effort into their work in class?

Then the aim would maybe read, ‘to concentrate on work for 10 minutes’. No way is this realistic for any child. If that’s all you expect, then that’s all you’ll get!

Of course, these low expectations of behaviour and effort are always justified with the endless excuses, ‘Well, he can’t help swearing’, or ‘He doesn’t like writing’.

You don’t say…

There’s too much tolerance from teachers and head teachers who make endless excuses for bad behaviour and lack of effort with school work. Teachers should have the highest expectations of achievement and effort from children both in class work and behaviour.

How can children know what they can achieve if they’re constantly excused from adhering to what’s considered (or should be considered) normal standards of behaviour in society? Children must also be encouraged to experience that wonderful feeling achieved when they know they’ve done well — how can this happen if nobody ever expects them to aim towards their highest level?

Why should 3 instances of swearing be tolerated? Of course he can help swearing and should be expected not to swear at all!

He’s not going to like writing if he’s constantly excused from not doing work to his highest standard. How can a child improve their level of learning if they’re not expected to make an effort?

Managing children’s behaviour is unlike other areas of school work. When learning to read or to do arithmetic, progress is gradual because you can only learn a limited amount at a time and you need time to practise the skills. But behaviour isn’t like that. Teachers have to expect the highest standards from the start — it shouldn’t be gradual. The best has to be expected from the outset — nothing else will do!

What’s the answer to the swearing problem? It’s simple — swearing isn’t allowed and if you break the rule there will be an immediate warning followed by a consequence if further swearing is heard.

What do you do about the problem with the writing tasks? This is slightly different. Writing is a learning area and work should be differentiated. But, at an appropriate level, any child should be expected to do their work as independently as possible and at their highest level of effort. Refusal should lead to an instant warning that they’ll make up time wasted during breaks. Children have to know that you mean what you say. Don’t threaten anything you don’t follow through. Children should also be told that if their writing isn’t as good as it could be they’ll be repeating the task, again in their own time. Children very quickly get the message and before long they only need a warning — plus of course, acknowledgement and encouragement when they comply.

Ideally, you have to have the highest standards right from your first experience of dealing with a child or class. Plus, there has to be a great deal of encouragement, acknowledgement of effort and positive comments as deserved.

Having the highest standards and expecting children to achieve their best is a vital part of teaching and the successful management of children’s behaviour.

How to Choose the Best Project Management School For You?

Are you looking for good project management schools? This career field is one of the professions which are on the rise these days. Lots of people are trying to take up this job because there are lots of benefits in this job.

First of all if you want to work in a challenging environment then this job is a perfect choice for you. There are lots of challenges and hard work which is related to this job. It is very important to overcome all the hardships and become successful in this job.

There are different kinds of programs from which you need to choose the one which suits you. You must always remember that you have to face a lot of challenges if you become a project manager. You will have to deal with all the odds and you also need to deal with people who will work under you as well as above you.

You might also have to work under great pressure. All these things might sound quite tough but once you get the proper training from the project management schools you will find it easy to deal with all these things. But unless you have practical experience of these things you cannot understand the kind of pressure that you actually need to deal with. You must also remember that you cannot become the project manager in the beginning of your career.

You need to start with something lower and then you need to rise with your own capability. It is better to learn things as you grow in the industry. The more you get the chances to learn the better will be your future as the project manager.

If you are finding it difficult to find out the best schools then you need to perform a good research. There are various ways to perform a good research. One of the ways is to visit the schools and collect information about them.

You can even talk to the students of the training institutions to have a better knowledge about the institution. The testimonials given by the students can help you choose a better school. Other than this, you can also perform an online research.

You can check out the websites of various schools. After that you can shortlist some of the schools and then select one from them. Once you shortlist some of the schools you can start collecting information about them online. You can even go through the reviews of these the schools. These reviews are usually written by the students as well as some of the experts in this field. Once you get chance to go to good project management schools you should utilize the opportunity.