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Responsibility for budgeting shifts to schools


CMSD principals who yearned to be free from the central bureaucracy are getting their wish, but, as the saying goes, with great power comes great responsibility.

The District is rolling out “student-based budgeting,” which allocates money to individual schools according to the number of students and their particular needs – for example, if they are enrolled in special education, learning English as a second language, reading below proficiency or qualified for gifted instruction.

Principals will determine how most of the funds are spent and will have to stay within their allocations. The idea is to give flexibility to the people who best know what their students require.

“That’s a fundamentally huge shift,” Chief Financial Officer John Scanlan said Friday as he opened a trainining session for principals and teachers involved in the process. “It’s really linked to the work you want to do. You need to deeply understand and work around your students’ needs.”

Giving schools authority over their resources is integral to The Cleveland Plan for reform, as is a portfolio system of schools that provides students and families with an array of options to serve their needs.
But the strategy places extra demands on principals, like forcing them to market their schools against charter schools and even their CMSD colleagues to boost enrollment.

Chief Academic Officer Michelle Pierre-Farid told the principals and teachers gathered at the Barbara Byrd Bennett Professional
Development Center in Bratenahl to “think about what will make your school unique and draw families.” She also urged the principal to dig into the details of instructional scheduling and personnel selections.

“Think about the children you are serving, then think about who can move them dramatically,” she said.

The schools will work on their individual budgets in February. Then the plans, based on enrollment estimates, will be reviewed by the District administration and made part of an overall annual budget that the Board of Education will vote on. The District will adjust the schools’ allocations in the fall after enrollment is finalized.

The principals will have authority over about three-fourths of their schools’ spending. They are barred from cutting functions like security but could add to the levels set by the central office; controls will ensure that principals don’t push students into special education, which would guarantee more funds.

Some other large U.S. school systems use student-based budgeting. Denver took the step six years ago, affecting 120 schools and nearly 60,000 students.

Principals were shy in the first few years about using their autonomy, Executive Director of Budget Kate Kotaska said. She said training has empowered them to try new tacks such as appointing a teacher leader or staggering student schedules.

Kotaska’s staff now includes eight “financial partners” who each work with a group of schools. She said she has been asked whether Denver has a model for piloting student-based budgeting.

“My answer is we have a lot of pilot models,” Kotaska said. “Our principals are doing a lot of different things.”

CMSD experimented with student-based budgeting this school year. Ten of CMSD’s better performing schools were allowed to shift existing funds to one or two projects that they thought could make a difference.

Campus International, which is housed at Cleveland State University, added an enrichment period with classes limited to eight students. Whitney M. Young Leadership Academy hired consultants to help strengthen the school’s gifted-education program.

New Tech West, a high school that stresses technology and project-based learning, addressed an uptick in security concerns at the building -- which also includes Max S. Hayes High School -- student perceptions that classmates lacked a “kindness first” attitude and a large number of students reading below proficiency.
Principal Erin Frew added a security guard and full-time social worker and passed on adding two teachers so she could have a reading specialist focus on struggling students. Testing will determine whether scores are up, but student surveys show a slight improvement in the climate from last school year.

Frew said she likes numbers so wasn’t intimidated by budgeting. She also enjoys finally having control of decision making but is keenly aware of the accompanying accountability.

“It’s on me,” she said. “I prefer that.”