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CMSD to begin second year of student-based budgeting

CMSD is moving into its second year of “student-based budgeting,” with distribution of money to individual schools according to the number of children enrolled and their specific needs.

Under this strategy, money follows each student in weighted amounts that take into account factors such as special education and reading proficiency.

Principals control the majority of their budgets and decide how to spend the money with help from teams that include staff and community members. This approach places control in the hands of people who best know their children and is in keeping with The Cleveland Plan, a blueprint for education reform in the city.

“The people of Cleveland made it clear when passing the Issue 107 operating levy in 2012 that they expect the District to operate differently than we have in the past and produce results,” Chief Executive Officer Eric Gordon said. “Declining enrollment and the resulting loss of revenue present challenges for the entire District, but our school teams will rise to the challenge and work together to mitigate any negative impact of those declines on the students in their schools.”

Nearly half of the District’s 100 schools will actually see increases in their budgets as enrollment shifts with parent choice. The freedom to choose from an expanding number of quality school choices is at the heart of CMSD’s “Portfolio Strategy” under The Cleveland Plan.

As school teams plan for next school year, they will have District support teams to help them develop and adhere to their budgets. Those supports were expanded this year, with staff in academics, operations and technology joining colleagues from finance, special education and human resources.

“We remain mindful of the investment voters made when passing the first levy in 16 years,” Chief Financial Officer John Scanlan said. “Budget shortfalls due to declining enrollment force us to make adjustments and to make the best use of the dollars we have. Our school teams can meet that challenge.”

While some teachers may have to transfer to buildings where staffing is needed, no one is expected to lose a job because of declining enrollment. Retirements and other departures have created more than 300 classroom openings, prompting CMSD to aggressively recruit staff through Teach Cleveland, a nationwide teacher hiring campaign.

Schools with budget cuts last year typically made adjustments without being forced to increase class sizes or combine grade levels for “split classes.”

Student-based budgeting recognizes the reality that traditional public schools no longer hold a monopoly and have to compete for student enrollment.

CMSD principals are learning how to market their programs and to build school cultures that will bring back students who left the District for charter schools, including many charters that have records of poor performance.

East Tech High School, for example, capitalized on the popularity of the Scarabs’ boys basketball team, attracting about 50 eighth-graders from nearby CMSD schools to a recruiting fair before a recent home game against Warrensville Heights. Co-Director Temujin Taylor said East Tech will also invite CMSD eighth-graders to spend a day at the school and will make an appeal to charter students, too.

The new flexibility that comes with school autonomy under The Cleveland Plan also has allowed principals to think about ways to redesign their school programs, hours of operation and even school calendars.

Erin Frew, principal at New Tech West High School, decided last year to focus on improving the school climate.

The building that New Tech shares with Max Hayes had security, but Frew’s budget set aside money to add another guard.

If funding permits, Clark School Principal Amanda Rodriguez would like to start a transition program for children who don’t need to repeat kindergarten but could use help adjusting to first grade.

She also wants to add a second prekindergarten class, to give students a strong foundation, and strengthen reading in kindergarten through second grade so students achieve proficiency by third grade, a condition for promotion in Ohio. Other items on her list include elective courses and after-school intramural sports.

“I really like the fact that I’m able to utilize the funds allocated to me to address student needs,” she said. “Every building is different. You can’t have a one-size-fits-all budget.”