While I have been fortunate to gain significant experience in a few categories during my internship experience, I have had to work extremely hard to gain experience in other areas. One area, operations and management, is difficult to get into as someone who is new the district as well. My mentor, who, as one of her many titles, is the Director of State and Federal Programs, invited and allowed me to work on her Section 31a or At-Risk Budget.
My mentor, our school’s business manager, and I met on a snowy January afternoon to go over the budget and to allocate funds within our At-Risk Budget. To begin with, I learned about where our money comes from and how it could be spent. For instance, federal money is granted only after you have provided the budget for it and state money is granted before you spend the money for it. I also learned that federal money is much more restricted on how you can spend it. Throughout the process, we discussed the Principal as a manager role (Matthews and Crow, 2003) and how I would allocate money for my building. For instance, my first year as a principal, I will likely have little say over the budget I am given.
During this process, I also learned and reinforced some of my learning from EAD 853. For instance, we discussed how a person is not solely their salary. The coefficient for staff members including benefits is actually large. This is important to remember as a building administrator. Even though on paper, it looks easy to hire a person, the actual cost of the hire will be greater than the salary of the individual. I also learned about how the budget is like a puzzle. For instance, if you have a teacher teaching two hours of a subject covered, that teacher, and their benefits will be partially covered by Section 31a grants. It was an eye-opening experience for me.
One of the biggest takeaways from the process for me was where to start in the budget process. While Title I and Section 31a grants may seem large to you, depending on the school, of course, the money can be quickly gobbled up. My mentor and the business manager explained they like to go through and place all the salaries for people who are paid out of these grants into the grants first. This allows them to know what they are working on maintaining current levels of staffing. For me, this is an important step to take and was a great reminder.
Using this as a lens into the budgeting process was extremely beneficial. For instance, a school budget is much more complicated than your household budget. While the school budget is complicated, it has more wiggle room than your household budget. One thing that I know for certain is if you struggle to understand costs, true costs and money, that budgeting in schools will be difficult to master.