Opinion Blog

Peter DeWitt's

Finding Common Ground

A former K-5 public school principal turned author, presenter, and independent consultant, DeWitt provides insights and advice for education leaders. He can be found at www.petermdewitt.com.

Education Opinion

The Direct and Indirect Costs to Defeated School Budgets

By Peter DeWitt — September 08, 2011 3 min read
We have spent so many years kicking the can down the road that the can is kicking back." Unknown

Across the country this year, many public school districts saw their budgets get voted down and they were forced to make more cuts or go into a contingency budget. As we enter the new school year, students, staff and parents are beginning to see the effects of their defeated budgets.

Many people, businesses and institutions have spent years not living within their means, and we are all paying for it in a variety of ways. Given the cuts to state funding we are all seeing, it’s time to re-evaluate what we are doing because frankly, we don’t have a choice.

There are a variety of reasons why communities vote down budgets. Sometimes the budgets are voted down because there is a huge increase that taxpayers cannot afford (i.e.15 to 20%). Other times it’s that communities want schools to stay within a 0% to 2% range and when the school district doesn’t do that the community voices their opinion through voting no on the budget. Other times, it’s that the community has no confidence in the work that the schools are doing.

Regardless of the reason why a budget gets voted down, students pay the price both directly and indirectly. As much as school districts try to stay away from cuts that will affect students directly, it’s impossible to make sure that students go unscathed.

One direct cost to a failed budget is the loss of programs. Typically the arts, music and library are cut; as are valuable staff who have a daily impact on students. School days are shortened and there is a loss of teacher’s aides and other “non-essential” positions. Although they are referred to as “non-essential” these people and positions are very essential to student academic needs, especially given the increase in mandates we have seen over the years.

High school students feel the pain because they have to offer fewer electives to students. This means that high school students miss out on taking classes that will help them become well-rounded citizens. A less well-rounded student misses out on building a resume that will help them stand out to the colleges they apply to. It also means that they may miss out on taking a class that helps prepare them to be career and college ready.

As harmful as the direct costs are to students, the indirect costs are equally as damaging. Many elementary schools see an increase in teacher duties, and school days have decreased, which means there isn’t time to invest in planning and preparing for those extra events students have become accustomed to like assemblies and morning programs. Field trips are also an indirect cost. Given the rising cost of gas, schools can no longer afford to pay for extra trips so students miss out on exposure to experiences that they may not see with their own families.

In addition, schools are often used by outside organizations because they may be the only buildings in town that accommodate events such as basketball, cheerleading, dance, and Boy Scouts. During tough economic times when budgets go down, districts have to begin asking those outside organizations to pay for building use. Many of those organizations, which include PTA fundraisers during off-school hours, cannot afford to pay that building use fee.

Times have certainly changed for many school districts, whether their budgets were voted down or not. These changing times have an effect on students. As much as community members may say that they went to school where their were 35 students in their class and they turned out “just fine,” the reality is that schools back then did not have any of the mandates that they do now. Add in the accountability that so many politicians refer to, and we have an increase mandates and a decrease in the time and money to meet them.

As school systems we have to adapt to the change but also look for opportunities to maintain positive learning environments for our students, whether that is through the use of creative master scheduling, team-teaching or trying to find fun and innovative events that also happen to be inexpensive. Whatever the solution is to our current situations, we know it will be different for all of us.

The other day a news commentator said that, “we have spent so many years kicking the can down the road that the can is kicking back.” The reality is that all of those years of overspending and the lack of accountability on the part of those in power are working against us and our students will feel some of the pain.

Follow Peter on Twitter.

The opinions expressed in Peter DeWitt’s Finding Common Ground are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

Let us know what you think!

We’re looking for feedback on our new site to make sure we continue to provide you the best experience.

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Future of Work Webinar
Digital Literacy Strategies to Promote Equity
Our new world has only increased our students’ dependence on technology. This makes digital literacy no longer a “nice to have” but a “need to have.” How do we ensure that every student can navigate
Content provided by Learning.com
Mathematics Online Summit Teaching Math in a Pandemic
Attend this online summit to ask questions about how COVID-19 has affected achievement, instruction, assessment, and engagement in math.
School & District Management Webinar Examining the Evidence: Catching Kids Up at a Distance
As districts, schools, and families navigate a new normal following the abrupt end of in-person schooling this spring, students’ learning opportunities vary enormously across the nation. Access to devices and broadband internet and a secure

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Speech Therapists
Lancaster, PA, US
Lancaster Lebanon IU 13
Elementary Teacher
Madison, Wisconsin
One City Schools
Elementary Teacher - Scholars Academy
Madison, Wisconsin
One City Schools

Read Next

Education Obituary In Memory of Michele Molnar, EdWeek Market Brief Writer and Editor
EdWeek Market Brief Associate Editor Michele Molnar, who was instrumental in launching the publication, succumbed to cancer.
5 min read
Education Briefly Stated Briefly Stated: December 9, 2020
Here's a look at some recent Education Week articles you may have missed.
8 min read
Education Briefly Stated Briefly Stated: Stories You May Have Missed
A collection of articles from the previous week that you may have missed.
8 min read
Education Briefly Stated Briefly Stated: Stories You May Have Missed
A collection of stories from the previous week that you may have missed.
8 min read