Monday, March 23, 2009

Good And Bad Ways To Save Money

Funding shorfalls seem to be a constant issue with our schools: we always want more money than we have. That's not surprising, as that's a general condition of human existence. But it's important to constantly ask ourselves the basic question: are we spending all our money wisely? Are there opportunities to better target our spending, in ways that will get us more education for less money? We should be asking this question constantly, in good financial times and bad.

When the budget seems to be less than what we want, there is a reflexive impulse towards across-the-board cuts. By across-the-board I mean a cut that affects virtually all programs equally: shortening the school year, or reducing all salaries by a set percentage. An across-the-board cut is convenient for a bureaucracy, as it impacts all political consituencies equally, and thus never requires you to worry about being accused of playing favorites. And if you depend on political processes to allocate funding, an across-the-board cut is a shrewd power stratagem, as it will cause voices of complaint from many directions, demonstrating your "need" for more money.

But an across-the-board cut is almost never the best option. If your business is losing money, you need to closely examine all aspects, look for efficiencies, and find the best places to reduce spending while maintaining your focus on results. There may be opportunities to better leverage technology or more carefully manage our purchasing of supplemental services, to give a better education without any visible cuts. But in addition, hard decisions need to be made on which programs are truly essential, which are optional, and which ones can be compromised upon or replaced with optional community-volunteer-run extracurriculars. Is it really the case that AP Physics classes are no more or less important than Introductory Jewelry Making? I'm sure I'll be ripped apart by art advocates for asking the question... but truly, in your heart, what do you really think? What is the answer that will have the most impact on our children's success in the 21st century?

Over the next couple of weeks, I'll be discussing various ideas for getting an equal and better education while spending less money. Feel free to email or comment if you think you have a good reason why some idea I mention can't work in real life. Maybe some were even discussed by the board at some point, but I missed them in the hundreds of pages of PDFs online; please point this out to me if you spot such a situation. But I think it's time to seriously consider out-of-the-box ideas that can have a real positive impact on the amount of education, relative to the money we spend, that our children receive.

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