How Aligning Budget Decisions to Your Vision Builds Trust and Greater Fiscal Responsibility

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Topics: Vision and Culture

Many district leaders may not consider their budget as a communications tool, but it’s one of the best places to affirm your commitment to your vision for all learners – and share that commitment with the community. Being transparent about what the district’s dollars are supporting builds trust, so whether you’re considering a new investment or reviewing previous year’s expenses, here are four essential things to consider when beginning – and communicating – the budget process.

1. Community alignment = dollars better spent

When you’ve gone through a visioning process with your community, it’s easier to see how most everyone wants the same things for learners, and to align your work toward meeting those ends. The same goes for budgeting – if everyone, for example, agrees on what they need to do to secure the best possible outcomes for learners, there may be dollars available in state or federal budgets that could supplement district budgets. Federal title funding is flexible and could be leveraged to make your community’s vision a reality, and similar funding streams in municipal budgets could be aligned to school budgets for greater impact. But you don’t know what you don’t know, so opening those lines of communication early is essential.

2. Be explicit about how every financial decision aligns to your vision

You should be able to identify with every approval, whether it’s for a new technology, a field trip or an afterschool initiative, how it aligns to what your learning community has identified that they believe and desire for students. It can be as simple as changing your process for budget approvals to not only get the appropriate signatures and school board approvals, but identifying clearly how your spending connects to your district-wide vision.

3. Use your budget as a tool to communicate your vision

If your community has agreed on what they want to see for all learners, your budget is the perfect opportunity communicate how each expenditure above and beyond operating expenses aligns to one, or more, of your guiding principles. Make it clear that any line items that are not approved mean something that the community has agreed that they want won’t happen.

4. Recognize the value in your principals and educators as first-line communicators

How you communicate your vision and spending internally matters as much as how you do so externally. Parents and community members have the most interactions with teachers and principals, so they trust them the most. When parents and local leaders can hear from their daughter’s third-grade teacher or their son’s high school principal how district spending is aligned to what they want for learners – because your office has been conscientious about communicating internally – you are reinforcing trust and community will.