As a new Trustee I was somewhat afraid of what the budget process would be like and rightfully so. School Boards in Ontario receive all their financing from the Ministry of Education since local taxation was removed. This move was made to equalize the playing field between Boards, no more have & have not Boards. Education Funding 2011/2012 GEDU outlines this complicated funding system. There is base funding, enrollment based funding, special funding, program funding, etc. etc. The application and reporting for and of the funds can be followed through the Financial Analysis & Accountability Branch of the Ministry. Throughout the year new funding maybe made or program changes or new programs introduce. These are made through Ministry Memos: B & SB Memoranda . All this creates a reporting overload. At times the Finance department could be working on 3 different budgets: the previous year's, the current year's and next year's with different numbers: final figures, initial estimates, revised estimates and projected estimates. Trying to follow things at times makes one's head spin.
School Board's budgets are huge, creating the need (and appropriately) for accountability. Approximately 80% of a Board's budget is for salaries: whether it be teachers, EAs, principals, administration staff or custodians. This leaves 20% for transportation, capital, utilities, supplies, technology, programming, etc. How & where this money is spent is a challenge, there never seems to be enough. When money is short programs, services, repairs may need to be cut or reduced. Boards and staff do this to the best of their ability to minimize cuts. These days improved standards/achievement are the push with the public wanting (appropriately again) the best for the buck.
One thing that I was not prepared for in our local budget process was the fact that the Administrative staff presented the Finance Committee with a balanced budget. Maybe because this process does not make the headlines. Is this the right process, for us I would say yes. Who better than the staff to make priorities and know the consequences of cuts. Yes, we still see the figures and have our say and question the short term and long term financial and programming ramifications of the budget. Does this minimize accountability?
Can I say where and how every dollar is spent, NO. Do I trust the people with the knowledge who provide me with the information and numbers, YES. Do I want to know more, YES. Will we (Trustees & Staff) always be questioned on the budget, YES.