Shrinking budgets! Pending Cuts! What should be targeted? What should be protected? Will the decisions be based on district values? Or, will political clout win-out?
Can it be even be done rationally?
The challenge facing school districts is how to prioritize a list of existing programs and services in order to find resources to be able to either implement new initiatives or to address budget shortfalls without having to increase the budget. This is a difficult assignment. Good decisions require a proven and clear process to guide the work.
How do you deal with personal biases?
Difficult budget decisions can be improved by first putting the focus upon clear, weighted which are used to objectively prioritize difficult budget choices. The major budgetary decision-making pitfall is jumping directly to debating the “pros and cons” of various budget alternatives. The personal bias of different stakeholders for their preferred outcomes will result in emotionally charged arguments. By developing these objective criteria before the debate about what to cut helps manage the emotion and subjectivity that often accompanies budget decisions.
One School’s Solution
The Mequon-Thiensville School District, Wisconsin successfully used the TregoED Decision-Analysis process to objectively prioritize “the list” of potential budget actions. The first essential step of the process was to develop the criteria against which the program and service cuts will be evaluated in order to accomplish the prioritization. The goal is to do the least harm to district mission and values. Based on this goal, they developed a list of 9 criteria/objectives which were used to prioritize a list of 51 potential budget actions. (See Table1-Criteria.doc )
Prioritizing “the list”
The district then used the criteria to evaluate “the list” of possible budget actions. This list of budget actions can then be arranged in order from having the “least impact” on district mission and goals to those having the “biggest (most damaging) impact. (See Table 2-List.doc ) This helps make it possible to make recommendations for change that are based on criteria that reflect the mission and values of the district rather than the special interests of a noisy few…
What has been your experience? What approach has your school or district used to prioritize “the list” in a transparent and objective way? What has been the community reaction?
For more information about TregoED’s Decision Making and Implemenation strategies go to www.tregoed.org.