ERIC Identifier: ED434401
Publication Date: 1999-10-00
Author: Hadderman, Margaret
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Educational Management Eugene OR.
School-Based Budgeting. ERIC Digest Number 131.
School-based budgeting (SBB) is the facilitative arm of school-based
management (SBM), which shifts decision-making responsibilities from the
district office to principals, teachers, and community members.
As the public demands that schools be more productive and be held more
accountable, a popular reform strategy is to give schools more authority over
their budgets. Some experts believe that site-level budgeting has the potential
to encourage innovation, enhance organizational effectiveness, and improve
financial equity among schools (Wohlstetter and Van Kirk 1995).
WHAT HAS CHANGED SINCE 1991?
Earlier studies and syntheses, including an ERIC Digest published by this
Clearinghouse in 1991 (Peterson), focused on interstaff power issues and
preliminary organizational/procedural changes wrought by SBB. Relatively little
was known about program design, effects, and implementation. Research from the
mid-1990s onward considers these practicalities and explores necessary
conditions for SBB to succeed (Goertz and Stiefel 1998; Wohlstetter and Van
The following sections discuss a contemporary rationale for decentralizing
fiscal decisions; comment on procedural, legal, and equity considerations;
review several studies of SBB implementations in urban districts; and identify
emerging policy and research directions.
WHAT IS THE RATIONALE FOR SWITCHING TO SCHOOL-BASED
Under a traditional, district-centered finance system, a school
receives resources (teachers, textbooks, and transportation), but rarely money
(Odden and others 1995). Critics of these systems have argued that standardized
budget allocations hamper efforts to design specialized programs, lack
incentives for staff improvement, inhibit the search for innovative
instructional approaches, and stifle educator and parent involvement (Wagoner
Private-sector research shows that decentralizing four key resources (power,
information, knowledge, and rewards) can enhance organizational effectiveness
and productivity (Wohlstetter and Van Kirk). In an SBB context, say these
researchers, highly involved schools need "real" power over the budget to decide
how and where to allocate resources; they need fiscal and performance data for
making informed decisions about the budget; their staff needs professional
development and training to participate in the budget process; and the school
must have control over compensation to reward performance.
Allan Odden and associates (1995) isolated two additional features of
effective SBM/SBB programs: use of an "instructional guidance system" (a school
mission statement and goal-achievement strategy) and a facilitative style of
Goertz and Stiefel say that lump-sum, decentralized budgeting allows schools
to "determine the mix of professionals, spend or save money for substitute
teachers and utilities," and carry over unused funds to the following year.
WHAT ARE SOME IMPLEMENTATION ISSUES AND OBSTACLES?
implementation process is arduous and time-consuming. Details must be worked out
concerning appropriate decision-makers and procedures; the scope of decisions to
be made at the site; staff training; accountability; resource distribution; and
SBB implementation resources and time tables.
Practical strategies must also be developed for handling cash flow, risk
management, interschool competition for resources, differing student needs, and
varied school organizational characteristics (Picus 1999).
Legalities must also be considered. Augustina Reyes identifies four "legal
implications for preserving due process and protecting civil rights and the
national interest in decentralized settings" (1994). These include overseeing
public tax dollars and preserving fiscal accountability; maintaining economies
of scale and district efficiency; ensuring the integrity of categorical
services; and avoiding personal liability problems.
Fairness is another important issue. As SBM/SBB becomes prevalent, with more
schools allocating resources according to their own core values and programs,
central-office referees may be needed to minimize disparities among schools
(Polansky 1998). Central-office staff will need to define and limit roles,
provide training, build consensus, promote inventory sharing, and assess
To enhance equity among schools, district staff can also take these steps
recommended by Goertz and Stiefel: develop an integrated database for data on
dollars, positions, outcomes, and demographics; clarify horizontal/vertical
equity issues and funding mechanisms; and acknowledge thorny race, ethnicity,
and location issues that may arise under SBB.
ARE SCHOOLS SUCCESSFULLY IMPLEMENTING SBB?
studies paint a complex picture of SBB's promise and pitfalls. As part of an
international OERI study, Wohlstetter and Van Kirk examined exemplary SBB
practices of eighteen schools in nine districts in Chicago; Denver; Milwaukee;
Bellevue, Washington; Edmonton, Alberta (Canada); Jefferson County, Kentucky;
Prince William County, Virginia; and Victoria, Australia.
Although these districts had a "broadened definition" of SBB and a
high-involvement orientation, "there was still a gap between ideal and actual
practices." Some power was decentralized, but district and state constraints
allowed schools little discretionary authority. Information sharing was
restricted by district political culture; staff development was fragmented; and
reward structures played a marginal role. Researchers did note a "scaling up
process occurring as districts were working to use school-based budgeting to
help create high performance schools" (Wohlstetter and Van Kirk).
Alfred Hess (1995), executive director of the Chicago Panel, examined finance
reform in the Chicago Public Schools from 1989 to 1993. Assisted by substantial
new funding over five years, Chicago schools achieved one reform
goal-reallocating funds to reduce administrative bureaucracy and equalize
interschool finance. Schools with low-income students now have more resources
and significantly greater discretion over choosing and providing programs.
A recent Mellon Foundation study of school-based budgeting in four large
urban school systems (Chicago, Fort Worth, New York, and Rochester) came to more
disappointing conclusions (Goertz and Stiefel). In all four cities, SBB occurs
at the margins, since the district limits the schools' discretion to allocate
funds and personnel (Goertz and Hess 1998).
SBB seemed to provide no "impetus for schools to do business differently,"
say Goertz and Stiefel. Monies were used in traditional ways-to reduce class
size, expand social services, enrich art and music programs, and purchase
equipment and materials-not for major program restructuring. Regardless of the
participatory structures adopted, principals seemed to retain considerable power
Equity remains a problem. In all four districts, researchers found "a
negative relationship between average teacher salaries and percentages of poor,
and sometimes minority, students" (Stiefel and others 1998).
The Consortium for Policy Research in Education studied resource-allocation
decisions at thirty-one elementary schools in eight states (California,
Colorado, Florida, Kentucky, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, and Texas). The
schools were using student-achievement data to decide how to use discretionary
funds, whether for professional development or for allocation of new staff
(Goertz and Duffy 1999).
Schools in the CPRE study tended to choose quantity over quality; they hired
instructional aides to expand reading services in every classroom, instead of
using certified teachers for intermittent, but more "expert" classroom coverage.
Moreover, "schools with considerable budgetary authority generally used their
resources in the same ways as schools with more limited flexibility" (Goertz and
These studies suggest that the mere creation of formal SBB structures may not
be a sufficient change to strengthen teacher and parent involvement. Limited
access to budgeting information exacerbates the problem. So do sanctions imposed
for poor performance. Also, deregulation and decentralization offer no guarantee
that schools are meeting students' and taxpayers' needs (Goertz and Stiefel).
WHAT ARE SOME EMERGING POLICY AND RESEARCH
Clarity is needed about SBB's purpose and goals. According to
one view, the improvement of school productivity (student achievement) by
increasing participation and altering authority structures is SBB's primary aim
(Peterson; Goertz and Stiefel). Others view decentralized budgeting as a
strategy "to improve school funding by increasing revenues and reducing
systemwide costs" (Chan 1997).
Researchers have found only a weak link between SBB/SBM implementations to
date and improvements in student achievement (Odden and others). In the OERI
study, the most successful implementations occurred in schools that were
actively restructuring their curricula and instruction. More large-scale,
comprehensive studies are needed to explore SBB/SBM's effects on student
learning and performance. SBB's capacity-building possibilities should also be
Inconclusive research and imperfectly implemented changes are only part of
the problem. Odden and associates see a need for redesigning the entire school
organization, particularly the finance system. One radical approach, employed in
some charter schools and in New Zealand and Australia, is for states to provide
lump-sum budgets to individual schools. Alternatively, districts might provide
85-90 percent of all general and categorical dollars to schools in a lump sum
(Odden and others; Picus 1999).
Current research efforts concentrate on developing new school-level
data-collection and financial-analysis models and examining the strengths and
limitations of the varying uses of such data (Picus 1997).
Research into pay-for-performance initiatives, reallocation of teacher
resources, and redesigned teacher-compensation plans may also affect the future
of decentralized school budgeting as a viable reform initiative.
Chan, Lionel. "School Based Budgeting: A
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Budgeting Across Four Large Urban School Districts." Journal of Education
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Goertz, Margaret E., and Leanna Stiefel. "School-Level Resource Allocation in
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Odden, Allan; Priscilla Wohlstetter; and Eleanor Odden. "Key Issues in
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Peterson, David. "School-Based Budgeting." ERIC Digest. Eugene, OR: ERIC
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Picus, Lawrence O. "Using School-Level Finance Data: Endless Opportunity or
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Polansky, Harvey B. "Equity and SBM: It Can Be Done." School Business Affairs
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Reyes, Augustina. "The Legal Implications of Site-Based Budgeting." Paper
presented at the Annual Meeting of the National Organization on Legal Problems
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Stiefel, Leanna; Ross Rubenstein; and Robert Berne. "Intra-District Equity in
Large Cities: Data, Methods, and Results." Journal of Education Finance 23, 4
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Wagoner, Robert V. "Site-Based Budgeting: A Critical Factor in the Success of
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