Financial managers a good investment for public schools
State lawmakers have approved $2.5 million to hire business managers for the Department of Education.
AS USUAL, public schools captured the lion's share of money
when the Legislature portioned out funding for the next two fiscal years. Of the $569.8 million marked for school construction and operations, lawmakers rationed $2.5 million to hire business managers for the Department of Education.
While taxpayers in recent years have been critical of adding non-classroom positions, smart money handlers could prove a worthwhile investment as the department moves toward an unfamiliar method for funding schools.
The method, called the weighted student formula, divvies up education money according to the learning needs of children enrolled in a school. Certain characteristics, such as economic status and language difficulties, would give students more weight and therefore the schools they attend more funding.
The formula, set by law three years ago, also would have individual campuses spending allotments as they see fit, but problems with drawing up the formula have delayed implementation.
The law's intention was to get more money to the classrooms for student needs. However, in the rush to do so, some issues weren't considered.
One was that principals were given the lead in financial matters, but many weren't prepared to become money managers while also handling their many duties in administering staff, teachers, students and parents.
Moreover, a state auditor's report last year found that at least one school already had trouble managing its finances and that the department had "a culture that says it's OK not to keep good track of assets."
With the $2.5 million, the department would hire a business manager for each of the 15 district complexes to help schools account for purchases and assets. But the department also should supervise financial operations more closely to ensure taxpayers money is being spent properly.
The Legislature also approved $40.2 million to be shared by schools as basic funding under the formula. When initially charted, the formula left some smaller schools and those in rural areas with so little they would not have been able to hire janitors, while others would have lost programs they felt were valuable.
Even after several revisions, the formula remained contentious, largely because basic student services would have suffered. With the earmarked money, the department and the Board of Education should be able to move the long-delayed funding method forward.
The department's budget includes $387.8 million for construction and $182 million for operating expenses. Combined with salaries and federal subsidies, public schools receive more than $2 billion a year in funds. That huge allotment represents the state's commitment to education, but improvements have been slow in coming, wearing the public's patience thin. Business managers could help ensure that taxpayers -- and students -- are getting their money's worth.