Budget planning for the 2020-2021 school year will be as unprecedented as everything else in the world today. The only thing school districts know for sure is re-entry plans won’t be finalized until the COVID-19 risk is known, likely sometime in August. In order for schools to be ready when the bells ring in September, finalizing strategic and financial plans must happen in a tiny two- to three-week window. For superintendents, CFOs and other budget managers, that means extra-long days, late nights and the real risk of burnout.
With so many questions and near constant change, now is the time for school districts to prepare for the unknown budget scenarios by putting the right technology and systems in place. Spreadsheets alone simply aren’t up to the task at hand. Although no one is certain exactly what classrooms will look like in the fall, school districts in Canada and the U.S. are investigating three possible re-entry scenarios: online classes only, students return to classrooms part time and students return to classrooms full time.
Each scenario has a different set of opportunities, challenges and correlated budget expenditures. If learning continues online, school districts will need to allocate significant resources to I.T. to connect students and teachers at home. If students return to classrooms in the fall, school districts will need to invest in more physical barriers, additional custodial services, and possibly masks and protective gear. If schools bring back students part-time, school districts will need to invest in both home and classroom learning at a time when many parents can’t afford higher fees and governments are looking for any opportunity to cut spending.
Beyond preparing budgets and strategic plans this year, school districts will need to do an exceptional job communicating every decision to satisfy state and provincial governments that are running huge deficits. Administrative teams will need to account for every nickel, as well as assess the impacts of resource changes suggested by politicians and other stakeholders very quickly. To rationalize their school district budgets, leadership teams will need up-to-the minute numbers to support their recommendations.
Without question, it will be a year of tough choices for everyone responsible for ensuring students receive an excellent education. When technology takes over amalgamating information and calculating hundreds of different scenarios, academic and financial teams can concentrate on what’s most important: allocating resources to achieve the best student outcomes.