Capacity-Building and Collaborative Tools Can Support Strategic Budgeting

Submitted on January 19, 2021 by:
Brad Keller

The Region 5 Comprehensive Center (R5CC) has been meeting with representatives from the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) to identify priorities for our second year of Technical Assistance (TA) and capacity building. Kentucky, like other states, has been greatly affected by the Covid-19 pandemic. It had to close and reopen schools, and then close again. Kentucky quickly implemented its robust plan for Nontraditional Instruction (NTI) to allow students to go remote last spring. But it involved a lot of logistics, such as distributing tens of thousands of laptops in some of the larger school districts.  

At the same time, the economic downturn resulting from Covid-19 is affecting state and local education budgets, making officials implement this new normal with a looming budget crisis on the horizon.  

Out of our discussions with KDE, we acknowledged the coming fiscal issues that states and local education agencies (LEAs) face and noted that local education officials may benefit from additional assistance in working through these problems and communicating them with their constituents and stakeholders.  

To put this plan in motion, R5CC and KDE recently met with representatives from several of Kentucky’s Educational Cooperatives to discuss an upcoming initiative on strategic budgeting.  

The strategic budgeting initiative is an effort to work with state, regional, and local education agencies to identify areas where the R5CC can provide capacity building in budgeting. 

In our initial meeting, we discussed some of the many challenges facing local education budget officials. We did this through a brainstorming session that was the digital equivalent of putting sticky notes on a board in a conference room and discussing the results.  

To organize the multi-state work session, we used a Google tool called a Jamboard. We placed the link to our Jamboard into a videoconferencing chatbox, and participants created digital “sticky notes” with their priorities for the upcoming sessions with local budgeting officials.  

As people put notes on their Jamboard, we could see what everyone was doing. The R5CC staff then organized the notes into categories and led a discussion, asking clarifying and probing questions to get at the meaning and implications of each.  

Through this exercise, we identified needs that included:

  • Considering the effects of decreased budgets;
  • A need to make difficult tradeoffs and communicate them with their communities; and
  • A way to ensure that local values and priorities remain an important factor when making these decisions.  

The R5CC is now analyzing Kentucky’s needs and other results from our needs-sensing meeting. We are developing a responsive Technical Assistance (TA) plan to address them with intensive capacity building for local budget officials. We will undertake a similar needs sensing activity with local school district leaders to identify their priorities and needs. We will then adjust our TA as necessary.  

While this is underway, our regional partners are identifying local district leaders who might be interested in meeting with us in the coming months to develop and implement a series of discussions around these and other issues.  

We hope to inspire others to consider using similar tools to exchange ideas and engage participants scattered across multiple locations.  

For more information or support please contact the Region 5 Comprehensive Center.