MONEY DOMINATES SCHOOL’S THINKING

With the onset of global budgeting for NT schools from 2015, money or lack of it seems to have become the number one preoccupation for school principals and administrators. This is somewhat paradoxical. In the final week of term four, school leaders should be rejoicing in the accomplishment of students and celebrating the year that has been. Instead, many seem to be focussed on coming to terms with the impact of global budgeting.

This new funding model has created a lot of angst and uncertainty among some school principals and councils. They are having difficulty reconciling the rhetoric about global budgeting with what seems to be the way it will actually impact upon school operations. Everything from program curtailment to staffing cuts seem to be looming.

On the face of it, global budgeting should be straightforward. A simple change of one allocation method to another should not create the negative reaction being generated. The concern seems to be that schools are being asked to maintain and even grow programs from a shrinking financial base. This is raising many questions and creating problems.

Training and understanding

I believe one of the issues is the change to budget accountability that has taken place within the education system. This began with devolution of management responsibility to schools in the late 1980’s and has continued since that time. In the beginning the school’s business was managed for the school, These days schools have become businesses. What used to be centralised functions have been outsourced to schools.

This has to do in part with accountability handed to schools and in part with the desires of principals and councils to take responsibility for decision making and money management. Global budgeting extends an outsourcing process that has been transitioning to schools for many years.

Managing money has become a complex and time consuming occupation. Schools have become businesses and this occupies the principal’s time. Matters of educational leadership are increasingly delegated to senior staff members. Principals and School Finance Managers are often under-trained for work in this field and battle to keep up with changing funding models. School leaders who trained to be educators are finding that bookkeeping is their major function. Many school finance managers have minimal training in this operational field. However, financial planning and full economic management is absorbing the time of both principal and finance manager. I suspect too, that the Department’s finance officers and those in schools are ‘learning together’, meaning that system help is evolving rather than being offered with full confidence. There may well be more confusion before clarity prevails because advisory staff have to learn about the new system.

Maybe it is worth looking at a model practised in Indonesia. Some schools have administrative as well as professional staffing streams. Issues of financial and budgetary management are separated from curriculum and teaching. The finance administrator and principal roles are separated, enabling both to concentrate of their specific areas of responsibility. This sharing of leadership and management may have drawbacks but it means that the principal’s focus is not totally consumed by monetary concerns.

Our system is now placing huge emphasis on business acumen and financial accountability. That has the potential to distract from educational leadership and classroom attention. Maybe the time will come when the business of schools dictates that those in charge are number crunching administrators rather than educational leaders.

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