The triple squeeze on this year’s budget will make cuts difficult enough – having a good solid process can help you avoid making it feel even worse.
According to the research article, The Cost of Covid, district budgets are caught in a triple squeeze caused by:
- New COVID-Response Costs – The costs incurred by both remote learning and making in-person learning safe during this pandemic have taken a toll on this year’s budget.
- Declining Revenue – Districts have been dealing with declining revenues for years exacerbated this year by declining sales tax revenues, declining enrollment, etc.
- Greater Student Needs – Inequities and barriers for students of color and students with higher needs — including students from low-income backgrounds- existed pre-pandemic. Remote learning and more rigorous learning standards have magnified those inequities.
Increased concerns for 2021
Additional concerns for budgeting in 2021 were raised by leaders across the US that use TregoED’s Decision Making process. Some found the prospect of leading meetings that last over several days in a virtual landscape daunting. They will face the challenge of keeping participants engaged over those potentially long meetings and ensuring that all voices are heard. Others brought up that some districts have held certain budget items sacrosanct. Knowing that all potential options will have to be explored, they wonder how you can approach making cuts to legacy programs with the support and understanding of stakeholders in the affected community. Still others recognized that there may have to be a shift in goals, priorities and projects to focus on evaluation and remediation of learning loss and meeting the social emotional needs of students and staff. All of these concerns can best be addressed when there is trust and transparency in the process used to develop the budget.
Tips for ensuring a smooth and transparent process
Amy Lowder, Director of Safety and Well-being with Cabarrus County Schools (and TregoED Process user) shared some of her tips for facilitating tough budget decisions:
- Make your process transparent and visible – building a decision-making culture that values input and involvement is a great foundation for building trust.
- Realize the power of the facilitator role– the facilitator of the process should play an impartial role and should be fluent in the questions that are necessary to get the right data to make choices.
- Ensure that objectives are clearly defined and have firm agreement by stakeholders – perhaps the most important step – make your ultimate goals collaboratively and clearly
- Remember how important risks are to your final choices: if a specific or group of cuts will sink your budget or alienate a large portion of the community, you need to determine if that is a risk you want to take.
- Don’t deny the power of the process! Having a clear transparent process can help you proceed smoothly through challenging discussions and help the community understand how and why decisions are made.
Clearly, district leaders and communities face a daunting challenge developing budgets for 2021-2022. Following these tips for applying a clear, transparent process ensures that the process you use does not add to that challenge.