DAILY INSIGHT: It's budget time

By Steven M. Baule, CIO Advisor

The New Year tends to bring the budget season. These days, in many districts around the country, it is about making budget reductions, cutting programs, closing buildings and other things most of us would prefer to avoid if at all possible. Public hearings will happen in many districts where everyone will take their turn at the podium and articulate why X or Y should be spared from the axe. In the end, you will hear about everything that should be saved, but rarely are any cuts suggested except for the easy points, cut administrative salaries and occasionally all salaries across the board.

So, going into this lions’ den, what should technology leaders focus on? Students is the obvious answer, but not always the common one. My advice to those getting ready to roll up their sleeves for the 2013 budget battles is to focus on what technology can do for students. Don’t speak about the need for 200 computers, but focus on what those computers will be able to help students do. Maybe some new things? Maybe some things faster? Or possibly just more reliably than the current eight-year-old computers, but focus on what the children of the district need.

Where ever possible, make sure that you create a long-term (five-year) capital budget for technology. Even if the numbers are simply best guesses for the later years of the plan, it allows the business office and the executive leadership of the district to be prepared for the need to properly fund technology. Make sure that the technology budget speaks to supporting the district’s long-term or strategic plans and focuses on what needs to be done from the perspective of the classroom, which is where our rubber meets the road.

Make sure your budget is tight and accurate. Cull the fluff out of it prior to sending it forward. The amount of time and public drama invested in cutting programs is to the point that Boards and superintendents are really feeling the pressure of this now annual fiscal bloodletting. If you have $50K of cushion in your budget, some other program or service in the district is going to have to make up for that $50K through reductions that might have a dramatic impact on programming, students or staff. Make sure your Board and cabinet know your budget is accurate and lean. What you are asking for should be what you need; nothing more.

Look to alternative funding sources. Even if you are only able to bring in 1% or less of your needed funding through grants, it shows the desire to be creative and helpful. Winning grants makes the school or district look good in the eyes of the wider public. That never hurts in this environment. Good publicity is always possible when grants are announced to the local media. Sometimes, additional donors step forward with more money when they hear about grants to particularly needy schools or programs.

Good luck getting through this year’s budget process.

Steven M. Baule is currently superintendent of North Boone CUSD 200 in Poplar Grove, IL. He has written several books on aspects of library and technology management and planning.