The budgeting process may be problematic for some board members. The nature of the budgeting process itself does not lend itself to school board involvement. Defining the budget is an administrative process that involves making adjustments and some decisions under tight constraints. It may be fair to say that next year’s budget will be a tweaked version of this year’s budget. Unless, however, administration projects a shortfall and forces the board to identify priorities for cutting back programs and in some cases staff.
The superintendent may take a lead role in the budget development process preferring not to place the board in a precarious position, which may lead to micro-managing administration. Unfortunately, this may result in the board receiving a finished budget document at a point when the budget needs to be adopted leaving little opportunity for input of any kind from the board. The budget preparation is too often portrayed as merely a financial plan rather than a planning process, which conveys the message that only in crisis should the board have the opportunity to be involved.
Board members must always serve a dual role/responsibility. The board has an obligation to ensure that all students receive a quality education by utilizing financial and physical resources to meet the district’s vision, mission, and student learning goals. When the board is not engaged in the discussion of the budget they lack the understanding of why the budget is set as it is. When the superintendent fosters an open dialogue with the board, he/she garners the understanding and ultimately the support of an informed and educated board. Communication regarding one of the key roles and responsibilities of the board and superintendent is a safety mechanism to prevent board members from compromising the superintendent when faced with pointed questions pertaining to the expenditure of tax dollars.
The board’s fiscal duty is to support a budget that ensures that all students have opportunities to learn in well-equipped learning facilities with high-quality teachers. However, there is a defined line between fiscal policy, which is the duty of the school board, and fiscal management, the duty of the business manager and/or superintendent.