The Owl Newsletter
ISSUE 43 | JANUARY 28, 2002
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ACCOUNTING FOR DOLLARS WITH CANDOR CAN SERVE YOU WELL IN AN ERA OF CUTBACKS
The demise of Enron may hold two useful hints to those of you managing cuts in your district's budget. Hint number one: make sure your numbers reflect your true financial condition. Hint number two: share what you know with all interested parties quickly and fully.
But even the most capable, well intended superintendents risk appearing to their public as evasive, suspicious souls. In the world of K-12, fuzzy numbers abound. Accounting methods have been weak. Reporting standards have been vague. This makes it difficult for school leadership to speak clearly about money matters. The vocabulary of plain speaking is simply lacking.
How much of that went for the salaries and benefits of the actual teachers who worked there?
Until you can answer these straight-forward questions without a lot of hemming and hawing, it is unlikely that you'll succeed in leading the public debate over cutback decisions gracefully.
Yet it is precisely this moment the moment when it hurts that you have an opportunity. This is your "aha" moment, the moment with the greatest potential to inform your board, your staff, your public of how things work, and what matters most.
CRITICS OF ACCOUNTING STANDARDS
The sorry state of current financial reporting has come in for some well deserved criticism by Pacific Research Institute and California Parents for Education Choice. This November 1999 article by Lance Izumi, Carl Brodt and Alan Bonsteel explains what is omitted when districts count their money. Mr. Brodt is an executive with Union Bank, and his credibility lends strength to their critique.
SCHOOL BASED BUDGETING IS ABOUT TO GET CENTER STAGE
More heat is due soon, thanks to the recently retired mayor of Los Angeles, Richard Riordan. In his campaign for the Republican nomination for governor, he is urging more candid reporting of school finances. His experience in Los Angeles has earned him combat citations in the school reform wars. This article is a preview of the debates to come.
Stay tuned. The Owl will be have much to say about these new developments over the year ahead. In the meantime, here are some places to turn for help when that "aha" moment arrives.
HELP PRESENTING FINANCIAL FACTS
The Girard Foundation and FCMAT have sponsored development of a set of presentations about school budgets, complete with graphs and explanations. It is likely to save you or your staff a great deal of time, at the very least. And at best, it will enable you to succeed in communicating your financial message clearly. They call it the "User Friendly Budget Displays" program, and it is available by calling School Services of California at (916) 446-7517. Or email them at: UFB@sscal.com
Note, it is a software program that enables you to plug in your district's numbers and get a reasonably well designed presentation. School Services was the software's author and publisher. This tool is free.
A COUNTY LEVEL ANALYSIS WORTH REVIEWING
The Rose Institute of State and Local Government has released its fifth annual analysis of school districts' budgets in San Diego County. It is well worth reviewing.
The 129-page report cuts through the complexity to get at the facts in a way that any citizen could understand. The value of teacher compensation includes benefits, when appropriate.
AN EXEMPLARY SCHOOL LEVEL FINANCIAL REPORT
San Francisco USD publishes an annual "District and School Profile" report which contains a rare summary of each school's budget, with categorical fund detail included. You can see how much each school gets for its GATE program, for special education, and for music, for example. You can obtain a copy by writing Ritu Khanna, the head of Research & Evaluation, at firstname.lastname@example.org
CHANGES IN FIXED ASSET ACCOUNTING IMMINENT
Get ready for GASB-34. This new accounting standard will require all public sector organizations to put fixed assets on their books: land, buildings, and more. It makes possible a balance-sheet view of school district property, much like a private sector firm. And it will require valuations, as well as depreciation schedules. If you haven't started doing this, better get moving. Unless you're on the GASB-34 standard by deadline, you'll no longer get a CPA sign-off on your audit. Click here for more information.
EdSource has a strong track record of publishing backgrounders on school finance that are aimed at educators and public leaders. In November 2001 they published "School Finance 2001-02" which shows that while California's economy is taking a sharp downturn, that K-12 funding statewide could hold steady. The Prop. 98 guarantees are explain, as well. Read highlights of the report.
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