School-based management (SBM) is an alternative to the typical pattern of school district governance that centralizes authority in the district office. As John Lindelow and James Heynderickx (forthcoming) define it, SBM "is a system of administration in which the school is the primary unit of educational decision-making." Responsibility for certain decisions about the budget, personnel, and the curriculum is placed at the school level rather than the district level, thereby giving especially principals but also teachers, students, and parents greater control over the educational process.
Budgeting also becomes markedly more realistic. Lindelow and Heynderickx state that schools no longer need to lobby with the central office for funds. Instead of requesting more money than is needed (with the hope of receiving a lesser amount that is sufficient to meet needs), schools receive a "lump sum," based on a formula, that they can spend as they see fit. Parents and teachers become more aware of the cost of programs, the school's financial status, and its spending limitations.
The superintendent and district office staff serve to facilitate the actions being taken at the school level. Their role is to explain the academic and budgetary goals as well as provide technical assistance when a school has difficulty translating the district's vision into high-quality programs. The development of student and staff performance standards and evaluation of the schools (using students' test results, visits to classrooms, and random questionnaires) are also the responsibility of the district staff.
The district office also recruits potential employees, conducts the initial screening of job applicants, and maintains information on qualified applicants, from whom the schools fill their vacancies.
In the area of curriculum, the district office specifies goals, objectives, and expected outcomes and then leaves it up to the schools to determine the methods for producing the desired results. Some districts leave the choice of texts and materials to the schools, whereas others, to maintain districtwide curriculum standards, require schools to use common texts.
Each school determines how to spend the lump sum allocated by the district. Funds can be spent on personnel, equipment, supplies, and maintenance. The school's instructional and administrative priorities are expressed through its budget priorities. Surplus funds can be carried over to the next year or be shifted to a program that needs more funds; in this way, long-range planning and efficiency are encouraged.
In some districts, the school-based management council makes most school-level decisions. In other districts, the council advises the principal, who then makes the decisions. In both cases, the principal has a large role in the decision-making process, either as part of a team or as the final decision-maker.
It is important to have a memorandum of agreement that specifies the roles and responsibilities of the school board, superintendent, principal, and SBM council. The agreement should explicitly state the standards against which each school will be held accountable. James Guthrie (1986) states that each school should produce an annual performance and planning report covering "how well the school is meeting its goals, how it deploys its resources, and what plans it has for the future."
Training in such areas as decision-making skills, problem-solving, and group dynamics is necessary for all participating staff and community members, especially in the early years of implementation. To meet the new challenges of the job, principals may need additional training in leadership skills.
Council members must spend time on planning and budget matters, leaving principals and teachers less time to devote to other aspects of their jobs. Not all teachers will be interested in the budget process or want to devote time to it. Those teachers and community members who participate in the councils may need training in budget matters.
Members of the school community must beware of expectations that are too high. According to the AASA/NAESP/NASSP task force, districts that have had the most success with SBM have focused their expectations on two benefits: increasing involvement in decision-making and making better decisions.
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