In 2007, B.C.’s Ministry of Education began a pilot project to encourage districts to look at school-based budgeting. The intent was to move districts away from top-down budgeting and instead empower schools to purchase resources based on their needs.
The initial pilot included six districts: School District No.’s 23, 47, 48, 60, 75 and 93. School District No. 23’s Director of Finance since 2001, Eileen Sadlowski was on the front lines of that change.
“I was the person who actually sat with the consultant who came and walked me through developing the allocation formulas,” says Eileen. “And together with my Superintendent and the rest of our Senior Admin Team, we rolled out the rationale, introduced the methodology and did the software training with all the principals.”
The results were so encouraging that the district continues to use school-based budgeting, enabled by MyBudgetFile.
“I think the principals in my district are quite happy that they’re in control of the entire discretionary funding at the school,” says Eileen. “It gives them a sense that they’re masters of their own fate.”
Appropriately, given that individual principals can control their own budgets, not all districts approached the program in the same way. While Eileen built District No. 23’s budget centres to be very consistent with the way that the ministry defines them, she’s seen a wide variety of approaches.
“While we all sort of had the same idea and intent, I think what the final product looks like varies from district to district,” explains Eileen. “You really can model it to look any way you want.”
Regardless of the district, the main cost for a school is always staffing. Sorting this out for each site can be quite complex, involving an array of permanent and temporary staff assumptions. MyBudgetFile is an important tool in untangling and clarifying these costs.
“At each school we start with projected enrollment, attach the teachers that are permanent and remove the temporary teachers. The principals can quickly see if they are overstaffed or need to hire additional people. ”
Staffing discussions that used to require hours-long meetings are now finished in around 45 minutes. The district’s schools are all staffed within a week, rather than taking weeks.
Then, once the bulk of the schools’ budgets have been allocated toward staffing, District No. 23’s school principals are able to determine the best uses for the remaining funds. Without having to worry about funding expiring, schools can choose to focus on staff training, learning resources, student activities or capital costs.
MyBudgetFile also allows schools to easily share budgets across the district, providing insights into cost-saving measures and encouraging innovation. Ultimately, says Eileen, it’s a process designed simply to be more sensible.
“A million decisions are made at the school level that wouldn’t necessarily have been as effective if it was all done en masse or schools didn’t have the control of unspent funds,” she says.
Vianne Kintzinger, Director of Instruction (K–12), agrees.
“MyBudgetFile file allows me to have the information that I need to dialogue with school-based admin to ensure that our district supports staffing from the unique context of each school.”
And the process never ends.
“I’m always adapting the way the file looks,” says Eileen. “This year, for example, there are some specific grants where the government requires that every dollar spent is clearly attached to that initiative. So I’ve built those grants into the system. At the end of the year, when I ask a principal, ‘What did you spend that $10,000 community grant on?’ they can easily go to the account that was attached rather than searching through a multitude of accounts”
Nearly 10 years of using MyBudgetFile to enact school-based budgeting has transformed District No. 23. In fact, many of Eileen’s current administrators have only ever operated under the model. But the results speak for themselves: school-based budgeting works.
“Now it’s just the way we do business,” says Eileen.