The School District Spending Iceberg – What’s Below the Surface?

School districts know what departments, programs, and services are spending.  They may even understand spending/student.  However, as the tip of the iceberg is only a sliver of a monstrous mass, this spending information only gives you a small depiction of the ways schools minimally delineate the sources of spending and efficiency in each district area.  In the book, Stretching the School ?????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????Dollar, Marguerite Roza from the Center on Reinventing Public Education at the University of Washington, suggests breaking down big numbers to the per-unit cost better conveys the relative magnitude of district expenditures.  In other words, many districts only view spending in large sums in fiscal documentation across categories, rather than using a method to divide and organize with the  purpose to understand each areas impact. Roza writes, “What is not clear from all this fiscal documentation, however, are the per-unit costs of what it is that schools or districts deliver.  For instance, what does the district spend per pupil for math, science, or physical education?  What is the per-student price tag on different sports offerings or on counseling or drama production?”

These questions provoke a deeper glance at the way districts understand and use data to make decisions.  By breaking down the dollars to understand their relative magnitude in different areas, as Roza suggests, districts can dig deeper than the tip of the iceberg, ice-picking chunks of information, providing more clarity in the pursuit of efficiency, effectiveness, productivity, and so on.

The future of digging into the iceberg is not only understanding it needs to be done, but also having the tenacity to make these changes in the system prone to the comfort of what has always been.  Information, systems, tools, and services though, are becoming ever more present in the education industry, providing leaders with the proper knowledge, methods, and tools to overcome this issue.



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