Oct 15, 2021

Strategic Budgeting: Assessing Resources, Part 2

Mark Fermanich
Coin Graph Against Message On Blackboard


Welcome to the fifth blog post in the Region 5 Comprehensive Center’s Strategic Budgeting series.  In these posts, we will walk through the five elements of Strategic Budgeting, to help provide additional tools to local education officials who want to think more strategically about how to use their resources. The five elements of Strategic Budgeting are:

Five Element graphic showing the circular connections among the elements. List of five elements. Identifying Vision and Goals, Assessing Resources, Using Data, Communicating with District, Continuous Improvement

green icon with two pieces of paper coming together to become one piece of paper with a bullseye next to it.



Today’s post is our second of two about                

Assessing Resources. You can read the other one here



In last week’s blog post on this topic, we defined resources and described what we mean by assessing resources. We also described how closely intertwined the first three strategic budgeting elements are. Assessing resources is closely linked to the first element (clear mission and goals), and the third element (using data). The three go hand-in-hand. In this blog post we will provide greater detail on how to go about making this assessment of resources.


The Process of Assessing Resource Allocations

There are five interrelated steps to assessing the alignment of your district’s current resources. These consist of:

  1. Identifying a clear mission and improvement goals. The goals development process must be based on data to provide a picture of where students currently are academically, and where you want them to be in the future.
  2. Next, you need a plan for achieving your goals. As in the above step, research and data should inform your choices for the strategies and programs included in this improvement plan, to ensure your choices have a track record of effectiveness. This plan should be grounded in data and evidence on what works.
  3. Next, think about the resources needed to implement your improvement plan – what does it take in terms of staffing, professional knowledge and skills, instructional materials, technology, use of time, culture to achieve goals?
  4. Then, look at current resource allocations. Do they line up with what you need? If not, what steps can you take to improve this alignment? Examples include:
    • reallocating and/or retraining staff in new curriculum tied to a new instructional model;
    • making more effective use of instructional time (for example, allocating more instructional time for the core subject of reading and math);
    • creating time for teacher collaboration around data, instructional approaches, and student needs, as well as time for remediation;
    • rethinking the use of technology to enhance—not just supplement—core instruction; and
    • determining other lessons learned about what did or did not work during periods of remote learning during the pandemic. 
    If budgets are tight, even within this framework, districts may need to prioritize which elements are most important (i.e., those whose funding will always come first).
  5. Finally, if current resources do not meet this alignment test, begin the process of realigning and reallocating resources to implement your improvement plan effectively and with fidelity.


Strategies for Assessing Resource Alignment

Drawing of four people working around a blue, green, and white pie chart. In the background are a bar graph and icons of a clock, briefcase, gear, and a person pointing forward.


There are several different approaches for assessing how well your current resources are aligned with your goals and improvement plan. Districts should use all of these approaches in concert to ensure they are making the most effective and efficient use of their resources. The Helpful Resources section below lists sources for some of the materials noted as follows:

Approach 1: Compare to resources identified in your strategic or improvement plan

As we noted above, one of the key steps to determining how well your current resource allocation is aligned to your stated mission and goals is to estimate as closely as possible the resources required in your strategic or improvement plan. Do you have enough personnel with the necessary expertise and skills to carry out your improvement strategies? Is your core curriculum of high quality and well-matched to the students your district serves? Do you have effective remediation programs in place to help those students who are falling behind?

Approach 2: Compare to successful peer school districts

Districts can, and should, take their resource assessment a step further by comparing how they are currently allocating all of their resources, especially their instructional resources, to successful peer districts. Using state and national research and databases, districts may benchmark their spending patterns by function, program, and object against other districts of similar size and with similar student demographics that are performing at a higher level or making significant progress. Many states also maintain district- or even school-level staffing databases showing full-time-equivalent (FTE) staffing by position type. This information will help to provide districts with specific data on where resources may be out of alignment with common practice. How does your district’s spending on instruction, administration, instructional support, or student support compare to your peers? How do your class sizes compare? How do your support staff FTEs compare?

Approach 3: Compare to high performance instructional models

Using this approach, districts can compare their resource allocations to those of high-performing school and district models. The evidence-based and professional judgment approaches to estimating education finance adequacy have led to the development of detailed models of effective schools and district central offices, based on the research literature and the professional judgment of education practitioners. These models make recommendations on a wide range of resource parameters, including school and class sizes, numbers of specialist and intervention teachers, district central office staffing, and spending amounts for technology, materials, and supplies.


Other Considerations When Assessing and Reallocating Resources

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A report by the Government Finance Officers Association notes that developing a collaborative relationship between business and instructional staff is a key strategy for supporting the alignment between district resources and goals. When both sides have a clear understanding of what the district must accomplish, bringing their distinct perspectives together often results in more effective plans and strategies than when each is working in its own silo.

One barrier districts frequently encounter when attempting to reallocate resources is opposition from parents and the general public. For example, few characteristics of schools are more important to parents than class size. Parents will often resist efforts to increase class size, even in cases where there is no evidence showing that smaller class sizes are beneficial for students. Districts must find ways to educate the public on the need to move to strategies and programs that are proven to be effective, not simply popular. Another barrier to change is state legislative mandates or funding mechanisms that incent or require resources to be used, or not used, in a certain way.


Helpful Resources

The following resources may be helpful in the process of assessing and benchmarking district resources.

  1. Ontario Ministry of Education (2013). Aligning Resources with Priorities: Focusing on What Matters Most. http://www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/policyfunding/Leadership/IdeasIntoActionBulletin6.pdf
  2. Miles, K. H. and Frank, S. (2008). The Strategic School: Making the Most of People, Time, and Money. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin. https://us.corwin.com/en-us/nam/book/strategic-school 
  3. Odden, A. R. (2012). Improving Student Learning When Budgets Are Tight. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin. https://us.corwin.com/en-us/nam/book/improving-student-learning-when-budgets-are-tight 
  4. U.S. Census Bureau’s annual survey of public school finances provides district-level revenue and expenditure data along with other information such as teacher salaries. https://www.census.gov/programs-surveys/school-finances/data.html
  5. U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics school district data, including enrollment, staffing, counts of students with special needs. School year 2018-19 is the most recent available. https://nces.ed.gov/ccd/pubagency.asp


Next Up – Using Data

In our next posts, we will discuss how to use data to identify research supported, cost-effective strategies, and programs for achieving your district’s goals.  We hope you will join us.  In the meantime, let us know if you have any questions or suggestions.  You can reach us at BradKeller@westat.com



Bread Crumbs/Wayfinding

New posts will appear on the CCNetwork on Monday mornings, so feel free to bookmark that page.  This is the fifth post in the series; if you want to start at the beginning of the series go hereThe previous post was the first half of this discussion about assessing resources, and can be found here.

Keeping Up With Our Posts

If you would like to be notified when new posts in this series are published, please email BradKeller@westat.com and ask to be put on the notification list. 

To extend this conversation further, follow and use the hashtag #R5OfficeHours on Twitter.

Office Hours

We plan on monthly “Office Hours” where you can join live with the authors (virtually), to ask questions, provide feedback, and discuss the topics explored in this series.  Office Hours are always the last Tuesday of the month, at 1 pm Eastern Time.  You can click here to register and add the event to your calendar.  This month’s Office Hour is Tuesday, October 26th at 1 pm Eastern Time/Noon Central Time. 

Legal Stuff

This blog post is in the public domain. While permission to reprint is not necessary, this publication should be cited. The blog post is prepared by the Region 5 Comprehensive Center under Award #S283B190030 for the Office of Program and Grantee Support Services (PGSS) within the Office of Elementary and Secondary Education (OESE) of the U.S. Department of Education, and is administered by Westat. The content of the blog post does not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the PGSS or OESE or the U.S. Department of Education, nor does mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement by the U.S. Government.

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