Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Fundraising and Budget Control

Essential school programs should not need to fundraise to meet core costs, and budgeting needs to be decentralized from the main administrative office.

Ok, some background: I spent over 10 hours last weekend (following 10-20 hours of planning) running two fundraisers to help get my students to Spain in February. We netted less than $800. While I'm confident we will eventually raise the $25,000 we need to substantially reduce costs for our travelers, the burden on me as the group leader is grueling, and attending to my teaching duties as well as our travel management agenda makes the phrase "work-life balance" sound like a sick joke. We have two students who are especially struggling to make payments. A firmer commitment from my school at the outset would make our fundraising stakes less dramatic and would signal a willingness to build the program for the benefit of future student travel. However, this type of commitment would place our school in an over-extended financial position, and since we depend on undependable state government and foundation grants, the launching of innovative programs require a sisyphean effort.

In the 21st century and our globalized world, international travel programming is a fundamental need, yet schools seldom treat this aspect of education as anything other than a teacher's pet project, approved of by the administration but not underwritten financially. Whether it is travel, athletics, arts or engineering, "extra-curricular" activities are frequently the glue that bind kids to school and the inspiration that leads kids to their careers, yet they are treated as peripheral window-dressing by bureaucrats and administrators.

In order to improve our schools, departments and programs need to have independent budgets much like departments within local, state and federal government. Staff should be held accountable for how that money is spent as they exercise this unusual autonomy. School administrators are often overwhelmed with approval requests for purchasing everything from class sets of books to dry erase markers and projector light bulbs. This is inefficient for management and employees, as teacher and program leaders wait needlessly for supplies and management drowns in emails and paperwork.

The move to bring business leaders into education has not shown clear evidence of improved student achievement; however, there is no doubt that some expertise in organizational and financial management is sorely needed. Our kids need cleats, costumes and plane tickets; and school leaders need better ways to focus on strategy as opposed to micro-management.

1 comment:

  1. Joe,

    This one post has A LOT of food for thought!

    First of all, kudos to all of your efforts to give your students an experience that will, without a doubt, deeply impact them as individuals, community members and as global citizens. I think this ties well with your previous post about the power of meaningful travel and how that can shape your thoughts, values and ambition in life.

    As you already know, I'm a huge advocate for co-curricular and out-of-school time programs - they are essential to student achievement. They improve life skills, build confidence, and create connections between the classroom and the community. I don't think academic outcomes are the only goals of extra curricular activities, however most afterschool and even school-day arts programs have to sell themselves as tools to improve math and literacy scores (which they do, but that's clearly not the only thing students learn).

    However, despite my interest in experiential learning, calling international travel programming a "fundamental need" for public schools is a stretch, especially when you pointed out yourself that there are so many classrooms that don't have all those basics - textbooks, computers, money for local field trips (money for a bus to go outside the city) or schools that have either one or no art/music/theater teachers.

    What your school should understand is that even if a plane ticket is not a "need," it is certainly an opportunity, one that could be life-changing for a student.