“School finance” and “resource allocation.” Two phrases that are probably some of the least inspirational in all of education. But now that DPS’ decentralization is the talk of the town, I’m curious what autonomy will mean for schools’ funding.
When push-comes-to-shove, the success of this shift to a decentralized model depends on whether school leaders have the authority, capacity, and the resources to make and implement decisions.
For some context, here is how DPS has allocated resources in the past :
First, let’s address that big elephant Other Expenditures, which is driven primarily by debt service on pension obligations and loans, like the one DPS took out in January 2013 to purchase and renovate the new Emily Griffith Campus. Specifically, in FY12-13, DPS paid $100 million in interest, and over $400 million in principal redemption. This expenditure on debt service is significantly higher than what the district usually has to spend, but it does beg the question, why does DPS have so much debt and other expenditures?
Yet, I’m more interested in what is in those Instruction Services and Support Services buckets, and what these will look like after this district decentralization. The ratio between funds spent on Instruction Services and Support Services has remained pretty constant. So what does this mean for the resources schools have access to?
Instruction Services include all activities that deal “directly with the interactions between students and staff,” namely, the teachers, paraprofessional, supplies, and services that directly interact with students .
Currently, most of the Instruction resources reside at the school level. Makes sense. But there is a question of how much of the school-level funds principals actually have control over. Schools see, on average, about $6,000 per student. By my calculation, about of 72% of DPS’ Student Based Budget is discretionary . The rest is allocated to specific initiatives or programs, and school leaders have little say about how to use those funds. Most of these are restricted Mill Levy funds, or required ELA teachers, substitutes etc. Meaning, they are not very likely to suddenly become discretionary.
With this in mind, I think the most interesting question with decentralization is how Support Services funds will (or won’t) be reallocated. Currently, for every $1 spent on Instruction Services (total expenditure in FY12-13 of $475 million), another $0.80 is spent on Support Services (total expenditure in FY12-13 of just over $380 million).
Will these Support Services continue to exist in the same way as schools have more authority over their programming, curriculum, and professional development? Will central supports be scaled back? And will school leaders have not only the capability, but the capacity to build or select the right supports for their schools?
For now, I’m left with more questions than answers. But the district has spoken. Now lets see if it puts its money where its mouth is.