Districts have put their ESSER dollars toward innovative and strategic investments. They have worked with their communities to identify key needs to meet and improvements to make. As districts phase out ESSER spending, many will need to discontinue some of the programs they’ve used their ESSER grants to fund—and this will come alongside the ongoing pressures to increase salaries, fund benefits packages, and increase staffing.
Balanced Budgets Require Tough Decisions
Communicating with the public and soliciting community feedback was an integral component of ESSER: regulations for ESSER III included a stipulation that districts seek public comment on their school reopening plans. As ESSER funding deadlines approach, community conversations will become even more crucial.
While some districts tried to limit ESSER spending to one-time purchases of, for example, tablets, personal protective equipment, or capital improvements, many devoted some portion of their ESSER dollars to ongoing expenses, like creating new staffing positions or funding academic or extracurricular programs. Atlanta, for example, used some of their ESSER funding to start a 9th grade academy; in Maine, the Portland Public Schools, like many others across the country, created outdoor learning spaces.
School employees, students, and community members have likely grown used to programs and staff funded through ESSER, and the process of deciding which of these programs and positions can’t be funded through the general fund will be painful for these stakeholders.
Active Community Engagement Can Help
When community members take part in budget decisions, they gain a view into what potential tradeoffs might look like, and can share informed ideas about what programs or positions are most worthwhile to keep and which may be easier to let go of. Community engagement is especially useful when districts need to reduce their budgets because it makes the abstract concept of budget cuts concrete and allows community members to see the tradeoffs that districts are facing.
Balancing Act is a tool that enables large groups to participate in shaping a budget. Districts can enhance the budget development process with Allovue by using Balancing Act to get input and buy-in about how to optimize limited financial resources.
With Balancing Act, districts can set their model to show an impending deficit and ask community members to decide how to balance the budget—whether by eliminating teacher or staffing positions, phasing out programs, or drawing down athletic or other extracurriculars. Although it’s impossible to please everyone when prioritizing positions or programming, soliciting community input can be helpful for understanding what stakeholders feel most strongly about. Using Balancing Act can help illustrate these difficult decisions for the public and guard against some of the blowback.
What's more, by asking school board members, teachers, and parents to make their own budgeting choices, district officials can develop effective, targeted communication strategies for preparing community members for upcoming changes. Learn more about building trust and encouraging community participation in the budget feedback cycle with Allovue and Balancing Act.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Allovue works with districts and state departments of education across the country to allocate, budget, and manage spending. Allovue's software suite integrates seamlessly with existing accounting systems to make sure every dollar works for every student. Allovue also provides additional services such as chart of accounts and funding formula revisions.