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Working With Your School Committee:
A Student Guide

Section Six: Understanding Budgets

When should students get involved in the budget negotiating process? Since the juggling of the budget items can affect the quality of education directly, it is important that students have a say in the programs they feel are necessary. Before you can take part in the negotiations, you must understand some facts about budgets.

Here are some general concepts:

  1. A budget is a systemized method of keeping track of where money comes from and where it goes. School budgets usually follow one of two general patterns. One is organized by types of services, the other by schools or subject areas.

  2. In Massachusetts, school budgets are part of the larger town or city budgets. The school committee submits its budget to the city or town for approval. The city or town approves the total appropriation for the support of public schools.

  3. Budgets use number codes to represent individual items. School committees often, but not always, adopt the standardized code shown below.

Request a copy of your school committee budget. This is a public record and citizens are entitled to have access to it. Proposed budgets look something like this:

Acct. Description Figure for Present Year Request for Next Year Difference
1000 Administration      
1100 School Comm. Expenses 4,478 5,120 + 642
1200 Supt. Office 134,500 147,010 + 12,510
1000 Total 138,978 152,130 + 13,152

These figures may be spread out over several pages with sub-items. A more extensive sample school department budget is provided in Appendix Four.

Budget Worksheet

See if you can answer these questions using your own school committee budget. You may need help "reading between the lines."

  • What is the total budget requested for school committee expenses?

  • Can you compute the total for teachers' salaries last year?

  • Whose total expenses are higher: the school committee's or the superintendent's office?

  • How much does it cost to heat your high school? To provide heat for all the buildings in school department?

  • How much is allocated to pupil transportation?

  • What is the total instructional budget requested for the coming year (salaries, materials, textbooks)?

  • How much does the superintendent's office require for postage?

  • What is the total amount of money allocated for all salaries? How is this different from the total amount of teachers' salaries?

  • What is the total requested budget for adult education?

Where does Money for School Expenditures Come From?

General City/Town Funds. Most of the money for school expenditures comes from local taxes, with property taxes making up the greatest contribution. Proposition 2 ½ limits the amount of property taxes the town can collect.

Grant Funds. Some money for specific programs comes from federal, state or private grants. However, in some cases, conditions are written into the grant which require towns to pay for part of the programs with local funds.

State Reimbursements. Chapter 70 of the Massachusetts General Law requires the state to return to towns part of the money spent on education. These reimbursements are calculated according to the state funding formula. The Chapter 70 program is the major program of state aid to public elementary and secondary schools. In addition to providing state aid to support school operations, it also establishes minimum spending requirements for each school district and minimum requirements for each municipality's share of school costs.

Budget Cuts

It is generally accepted that schools will need to make budget cuts at some point. When the pressure is on to cut the budget, the SAC to SC can give helpful advice about student opinion to the school committee. Consider the following questions for discussion. You may want to generate a survey or a poll to help you obtain these answers.

  1. What are students' priorities?

    • Are extracurricular activities less important than classroom instruction, or are these broadening experiences an equally important part of students' education?

  2. Are there ways of combining positions or programs to increase cost-efficiency?

    • Can administrative coordinators assume multiple roles?
    • Can some teaching positions be assigned to more than one school?

  3. How much can non-personnel costs be cut with minimal harm to students' education (e.g., supplies, materials, inservice training, field trips, security)?

    • How much do students in your school care about art, music, athletics and shop?
    • Can football uniforms be used another year before being replaced?
    • Can students launch a campaign against vandalism and reduce security costs?

  4. Is it better to eliminate whole programs or a fraction of each across the board?

    • Are there less drastic measures than cutting whole programs or closing down a school?
    • Which groups of people will be hurt the most?
    • Which tactic will meet with less political opposition?
    • Has just consideration been given to the difficulties involved in restarting a program in the future once it has been eliminated?
    • Is it realistic to think that enough money can be saved without cutting whole programs or closing schools?

  5. How can personnel be reduced with minimal harm to students' education?

    • Which of the vacant positions are crucial to be filled?
    • Does the position require the hiring of a specially talented or educated person, or can the present staff fill that role? What are the contract restrictions?
    • Can student/teacher ratios be increased?
    • What are the restrictions regarding provisional vs. tenured teachers?
    • Can administrative positions be consolidated and/or reduced? Is there duplicity of roles that can be eliminate?
    • How much can custodial, food and clerical services be reduced without impairing the operation of the school?
    • How much money will be spent in unemployment compensation? Can volunteers be used to fill the roles of aides, monitors, substitute teachers, club advisors and coaches?
    • What legal issues are involved?

  6. Are there alternate funding sources available?

    • Can booster clubs be used to raise funds for extracurricular activities?
    • Can sports teams be funded through gate receipts?
    • Could money be drawn from grants to pay for the administration of grant programs?

  7. Are the cuts fair?

    • Have all factions played a role in the decision-making process?
    • Are the proposed cuts educationally sound?
    • Do the cuts discriminate against any particular student population (e.g., low income families or limited English proficient students)?
    • Will cuts really save as much as people say?
    • Are scare tactics being used to arouse the public's support?

Remember, budgeting is an issue that needs student representation. Not many students have experience with the school budget because it is difficult to understand and often seems boring. Special interests may interfere, too. Many may have their own "pet project" or special interest. You should use the political process to improve life for students. Use the skills of polling, petition and assembling, along with proposal writing and lobbying, so that the student voice can be heard. This must be done within the time scheduled for the budget process.

Approving the Budget: The SAC to SC Role

  1. Poll and interview students to determine what budget items are most important to them.

  2. From the students' priority list, lobby school committee members to add or cut these items.

  3. The best way to have an effect on the budget is to have the student school committee member serve on the budget hearing committee. This often requires attending additional meetings. You may want to nominate the most qualified among the SAC to SC to serve on this if it is not the chairperson or if the time restraints become too great. To do this, you need permission from the school committee chairperson or superintendent. The budget hearing committee is a small group of people who review the budget line by line. Usually it is in this committee that all major decisions are made. You should inform students about what happens with the budget items that affect them.

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Last Updated: January 1, 2000
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