BCTF Research Report
School-based Budgeting/Site-based Management
A BCTF Research Report
written by Larry Kuehn, Director, Research and Technology
School-based or site-based management in a variety of manifestations appears on the education policy agenda in British Columbia and elsewhere in the world. These often appear in a context where cuts are being made in resources provided for public education. The purpose of this report is to assist teachers and others to take part in the debate about school-based management and to influence sound practice in B.C. schools.
1. What is "school-based budgeting" or site-based management"?
First the name. Some of the descriptors used to identify the models being discussed include "local management of schools," "school-based management," "shared decision-making," "self- managing schools," "self-determining schools," "locally-autonomous schools," "devolution," "decentralization," and "restructured schools."
Any review of education research and policy journals will identify that the subject of where decisions should be made is a common theme of articles and studies. The topic has also become a matter of political debate.
In B.C., the Nanaimo district has recently engaged in debating a process described as "participatory management" (detailed in a case example later in this report). "Site-based management" was advocated by the Liberal education critic in the 1995 B.C. legislative session and in B.C. Liberal Party education policy.
The Vancouver Sun has described site-based management as "where parents and staff decide for themselves what kind of school they'd like." Merritt school trustee Darch Osborne says larger districts created by amalgamation will encourage site-based management, which he sees as "one step away from charter schools." (Vancouver Sun, January 12, 1996)
2. Models of site-based management
Whatever the name, one or another of four models are advocated by different groups reflecting different interests. While any particular situation may have elements of more than one of these models, it is likely to have features of one more than others.
Model 1--Collegial, participatory, democratic management, which involves all the staff of the school in making the decisions, whether through committees or full-staff processes. This is a model advocated in the U.S. by the two major teacher unions, the NEA and the AFT.
Model 2--Principal-directed site-based management, which may involve some consultation with staff and/or parents, but is ultimately controlled and directed by the principal and other administrators.
Model 3--A parent committee operating somewhat as a board of governors. In many cases these committees are elected, and are often part of reforms that eliminate or reduce the role of a school board that covers many schools. In some situations where this model has been adopted, there is a significant similarity to charter schools.
Model 4--Some form of school-based committee that operates with a limited mandate, but may have significant influence in that area. Examples of this type from the B.C. context might be a school- based team for making decisions about special education or a school committee that makes the decisions about expenditures from learning resource funds sent from the district to the schools.
3. What are arguments in favor?
The claims of supporters of significant movement of decision- making to the school level generally fall into one or more of three categories: administrative efficiency, educational effectiveness, and/or participant influence.
- Administrative Efficiency
Administrative efficiency arguments are largely drawn from the business world: "Get the decisions about how to run the firm down to the people who know best what needs to be done." "The economic arguments for decentralization [are] that decentralized units foster necessary competition in sheltered monopolies."
These positions often flow from an ideological belief that market approaches and competition are inherently more efficient than planning approaches. These do not take into account inefficiencies created where school administrators have much of their time taken up in dealing with administrative tasks like purchasing supplies and services rather than education administrative tasks. Many of these non-educational administrative tasks can be carried out with a few staff at a central level.
Some argue that when cuts are made, it is better done at the level of delivery of service. One of the "belief" statements in the Nanaimo participatory management overview paper says that "participatory management can help schools make the most effective use of limited resources to deal with the educational needs of the students they serve." (Participatory Management, Nanaimo, p. 3)
- Educational Effectiveness
Educational effectiveness proponents hope that decentralization will produce increased student achievement. They expect this to happen though more flexible curriculum offerings that are tailored to the students in a particular school. They expect "greater rates of innovation, higher morale, greater worker commitment and greater productivity."
In contrast, they characterize the current system as controlled by a bureaucracy that imposes from the outside a one-size-fits- all policy.
These arguments are frequently made in the context of the U.S. system of education governance where curriculum decisions are mandated at the school district level. British Columbia has long placed authority for curriculum decisions at a centralized, provincial level, and few proponents of school-based decision- making in B.C. include curriculum in their proposed decentralization.
- Participant Influence
Many of these proposals are a call for new systems of involvement and influence. All of them call for decentralization or devolution, involving people at the school level in making some decisions about the school. However, who is involved, and what they are to make decisions about, varies greatly from one person's proposal to another's.
Some argue for local-involvement decision-making that has a focus on teachers. These are described, for example, as "teams of individuals actually providing services or making products [which] are given decision-making authority and held accountable for results." (Odden and Clune)
One of the most prominent researchers working on these issues, Linda Darling-Hammond, has concluded that success requires that two strategies be pursued together: "professionalizing teaching and decentralizing school organization and management to teachers." (Odden and Clune) The teacher unions in the U.S. have supported school restructuring if school-based decision- making means giving teachers a major say in decisions about their school.
Another model advocated by some, sees school-based decision-making giving parents direct control over elements of the offerings of the school. This may mean participation in setting budget priorities and/or school policies, a role in the selection of the principal and sometimes the teaching staff, or determining teaching approach (e.g., teacher-centered instructional approach). The claim for this approach is that parent influence will produce education that is more satisfactory to the parents.
The leadership style of the school principal (directive or facilitative) is central to the operation of any structure that aims to have participant influence on the operation of the school.
4. What do the critics say?
Critics identify a number of problems, some arising from differences in perceptions and objectives, others from seeing reality not matching rhetoric.
One view is that this is another example of translation of theories from the business world to education, but belatedly and after they have already been abandoned by the corporations. Peters and Waterman, in their book, In Search of Excellence (1982), pushed site-based management for business. Now, as his theories are being translated to education, Peters is making a fortune telling business leaders how his previous theories were wrong.
The calls for site-level management are coming now in a context of cuts in resources for education. The conjunction of budget- chopping and site-based decision-making creates a situation where the decision about what to eliminate gets pushed down to teachers and administrators, and sometimes parents. This produces new conflicts as different teachers and programs are placed in a position of competing for reduced resources. Some have described this as "professional cannibalism."
This conflict also produces pressures that intensify the work of teaching. If reduced resources mean the loss of a program or activity, the teachers face pressure--from themselves and from colleagues, parents and students--to add to their workload rather than lose the activity. These pressures are much greater when the decision is made at the school level rather than on a system basis. Pushing down the decision of how to administer cuts relieves those who decide about the total resources from having to face the consequences of their decisions to limit funding.
Research on places where school-based management strategies seem to be effective indicates that these areas "have operated by decentralizing power, knowledge, information and rewards; creating an instructional guidance focus for change; and providing facilitative principal leadership. This created conditions for professionals in schools to reorganize curriculum and instruction, redesign school and classroom organization, restructure use of resources, and increase student achievement." (Odden and Clune)
The opposite of these conditions prevails in B.C. Curriculum, student standards, testing programs, overall resource levels, allocation to targeted areas, are all increasingly centralized, leaving less of substance to collaborate about. Further, an experience commonly reported by teachers is constantly attending meetings to make decisions that have little impact, or that may be overturned by the school principal.
Introducing site-based management into the current situation may produce what Andy Hargreaves has described as "contrived collegiality." Hargreaves says "this propels people toward superficial solutions and the maintenance of surface appearances." (Robertson)
5. International experiences -- New Zealand and Australia
Some Lessons from New Zealand
New Zealand is being held up as a model by those wishing to reduce the role and resources of government. One element of the New Zealand model is an entirely decentralized system around school-site management. It has "no intervening layers of support, accountability or control between individual schools and central government funding, review and policy agencies." (Wylie, p. 2)
Cathy Wylie, from the New Zealand Council for Educational Research, has identified a number of lessons from that experience:
- The cost of individual institutional freedom is accountability;
- School-site management has increased workload of staff;
- Administrative and building maintenance take priority over curriculum and pedagogy;
- Parental voice at school level does not necessarily lead to more parental choice;
- The resource gap between schools serving low- and high-income students has increased;
- Available research indicates that school-based management alone has little improving effect on student achievement;
- Compared to other interventions, it is one of the more expensive forms of educational intervention.
Experiences From Australia
The Australia Education Union in 1994 brought together researchers who have been examining issues related to "devolution," the version of decentralization adopted in Australia.
Roy Martin from the AEU identified some conclusions from the research:
- Favorable reactions are reported to a number of aspects of devolution, but many of the positive claims made for it are exaggerated as part of the political debate;
- Current decentralization proposals do not flow from earlier participative democratic movements, but from the ideology of competitive individualism and the market;
- Democratic models of decentralization seek more equity; "choice" along hierarchical lines produces greater inequality and sets the scene for privatization;
- The noise about decentralization is masking a significant amount of recentralization, particularly in curriculum;
- The overall effect is that government is reclaiming control but divesting responsibility for education.
6. What's up in British Columbia?
- The Case of Langley
The longest-running and most studied school-based budget model in British Columbia is that of the Langley district. It has existed for a decade and has been the subject of reports, workshops, case studies and a graduate thesis. A listing of many of these studies is included in a 6-page bibliography available from BCTF Information Services and through BCTF Online.
How is it working? A Langley Teachers' Association survey of its members asked how decisions are made in their school regarding budget allocations. Responses were: a) principal decides--27%; b) principal mostly decides--staff somewhat involved--51%; c) staff and principal share decision-making--22%; d) staff decides- -0%. The conclusion drawn was that school-based budgeting has become largely principal-based budgeting.
- The Case of Nanaimo
A district administration paper on "Participatory Management" kicked off discussion during 1995 on a proposal for school-based budgeting (Local Site Committees) in Nanaimo. As pointed out by local president Cindy Lowry, the original proposal for participatory management had been developed without participation of teachers and their representatives.
The administration paper presented arguments common in the school- based budgeting literature: "Participatory management can help schools make the most effective use of limited resources to deal with the educational needs of the students they serve;" "change is most likely to be effective and lasting when those who carry out the changes feel a sense of ownership and responsibility for the process."
While it may seem contradictory that administration is seeking teacher participation in management, the motivation is unintentionally disclosed in one section:
Principals generally feel that there is a significant weakening of their leadership role. Schools are seen to be run too much by the collective agreement (rule book) rather than on the basis of collegial relationships among local partners, each with a clearly defined and understood role.
In other words, collective agreements define the rights of teachers from a site outside the school. If staffing decisions (the most significant resource decisions in the school system) can be moved out of the domain of the collective agreement and into the school, the pre-eminent power position of the principal within the school structure will restore the principal's "leadership role" in the guise of "participatory management."
In response to the management paper, the Nanaimo District Teachers' Association (NDTA) presented to the school board a thoroughly-researched brief and the results of a survey the NDTA had conducted of its members.
As a part of the process of developing its position, the local carried out an extensive consultation process which included sessions for staff committee members from schools, a meeting for parents, and school visits. The NDTA and the CUPE local co- sponsored an information meeting, bringing in teacher representatives from Langley and Abbotsford to talk about the reality of school-based budgeting as experienced by teachers in other B.C. districts.
This extensive discussion was reflected in the NDTA brief to the school board, delivered by Cindy Lowry. She identified the seductive rhetoric of school-based budgeting: It appeals to the fiscally conservative and back-to-basics educators who see it as a way of controlling costs and to those progressive educators who value grass-roots participation and decision making. The remainder of the NDTA brief identified how reality does not match this rhetoric.
Lowry identified six theoretical advantages of school-based budgeting and set them against the current realities in our schools.
- Radical decentralization allows the school staff to be involved in day-to-day school management. Teachers don't have time. They are swamped already with massive curriculum change, implementation workshops, a new labour- intensive reporting system and structural changes like provincial bargaining and amalgamation. When teachers don't have time to participate, school-based budgeting becomes principal-based budgeting.
- Involvement increases commitment and motivation for teachers to work harder. Teachers are already motivated and working hard. The real need is to reduce our work load, since an ever-expanding workload has already reached an inefficient overload.
- If the community is included in decision-making, there will be wider involvement of the community in the school. In some instances, creating a formal structure reduces broad participation of parents, because everything is left to those in the inner-circle of the official school council. How do we avoid special interest groups taking over a council? Who will speak for parents who may not have the skills or the time to articulate their needs, such as ESL parents, First Nations parents, single parents and working parents?
- School-based decisions will be more accountable. Blame for decisions will be shifted from the school board to the school as cuts are made, relieving the school board and province from being held accountable for the reduction in services. It must be tempting for school boards to shift the horrible job of making cuts to someone else. If these difficult decisions are made on a school-by-school basis, how will trustees be accountable to the public at elections?
- Money will be saved because of increased efficiency. The assertion that decentralization would reduce costs is not supported. (Brown 1990) Some research shows that a centralized budget system might be more cost effective. Economies of scale are more difficult to achieve. A great deal of administrator time is spent in activities like pricing, purchasing and accounting.
- Those who live directly under financial decisions are most able to change things quickly when changes are needed. When school-based budgeting is adopted in a time of cuts to resources, flexibility for a school to make positive decisions about what is needed does not really exist. If schools are forced to make budget decisions at the school level, how will the board know where the problems with the present levels of funding are?
Quite conceivably, schools could be the only ones making cuts, and district services may not be touched. The best decisions are made when every possible effect is considered for the system as a whole.
Divisiveness is another important concern. Imagine what it would feel like if your colleagues and community were to discuss the merits of the service area in which you were working. It would be difficult not to have the process become personal.
Equity--an objective ignored by school-based budgeting.
Equity is an issue that is usually ignored by proponents of school-based budgeting. A district role in the allocation of services is to ensure that there is equity. Equity is not achieved through equal treatment. Some schools have greater needs in some areas.
If we have a school with a population with several high-needs students with behavior needs, these students may put enormous pressure on the school. The school might decide that they need a certain level of counseling service, behavior classes, more administrative time and so on. In order to offer these students the service that the community and staff feel is necessary, other services have to be cut.
To give a concrete example from existing experience, in Langley the level of library services varies greatly from one school to another, meaning a student in one school will have good resources to draw from while another down the street doesn't have that service.
With school-based budgeting, planning for equity within the system as a whole is much less possible.
In conclusion, there is a great deal of change to deal with right now and this proposal does not seem to enhance student achievement, does not appear to improve parental involvement, does not seem to be cost effective. It is not widely supported by the research. It has created many problems where it has been implemented, and it is not supported by the two district employee groups in the district, so our question is simply--why here? Why now?
Results of a Survey of Nanaimo Teachers on School-based Budgeting Surveys were sent to the regular teaching staff in Nanaimo in the fall of 1995. Of the 975 teachers, 326 responded.
The first question read:
Do you support the concept of School-based Budgeting as proposed in the superintendent's Management paper?
4 respondents were unsure, or 1.2%
6 said yes, or 1.8%
316 said no, or 97.0%
- The Cranbrook Collective Agreement
The Cranbrook District collective agreement has a provision which includes several elements key to teacher participation. The clause from the agreement says:
- To facilitate staff participation in the school based budgeting/management planning process, Administrative Officers, in consultation with the staff, shall develop a process whereby:
- teachers will have an opportunity to participate in the establishment of school goals and objectives;
- teachers will have ready access to school information relative to the decision-making process;
- teachers will have an opportunity to participate in the budget planning process;
- time and support are made available to carry out the process.
- Decisions at the school level shall be in accordance with the contracts between the Board and the Association and the Board and CUPE Local 729.
- Learning Resource Budgets The story of learning resource budgets shows some of the dilemmas and difficulties around decentralization. Learning resources in B.C. were, until the '90s, purchased and distributed primarily from a central agency, the Learning Resources Branch. Most of those materials were textbooks.
The philosophy of learning resources changed in the late 1980s, moving from a textbook- to a resource-based philosophy. A significant role of the Learning Resources Branch became the evaluation and authorization of a wide range of materials that might be chosen by districts and teachers to support the curriculum.
With this change in philosophy came a change in the funding system for learning resources. Instead of getting credits toward a claim on textbooks from a central warehouse, districts were given grants for the purchase of resource materials. These funds were put in trust, requiring that boards spend them on learning resources, not on other elements of the school function. Further, funds in trust, unlike other funds, can be held over to future years rather than having to be spent in the year they are granted.
Over the first years this system was in effect, surpluses grew to over $20 million. At the same time, many teachers and teacher- librarians were being told by their boards that there was no money for learning resources.
The BCTF got the information from the Ministry about amounts of unexpended funds that were in the trust accounts in each district. The information was then provided by the Federation to all locals.
Many locals made inquiries to their boards about the expenditure of funds and why such large surplus amounts existed. In many cases, the locals were told that the funds had been distributed to the schools for purchase decisions to be made.
In some districts, inquiries to staff representatives indicated that teachers in the schools did not know that the money had been distributed to schools and that they should be able to draw on these funds to purchase needed resources. In other districts, particularly those with specific provisions in their collective agreements, teachers were told both that the money was there and exactly how much money was available.
This illustrates one of the key elements of school-based decision- making. Information must be open and available to everyone, otherwise the process becomes one of school-based manipulation rather than decision-making.
- School-based Teams and Resources for Special Education
A form of school-based decision-making has been mandated by the Ministry of Education Special Education Guidelines and in many collective agreements. A "school-based team" is designated to make plans about how to meet the needs of students with special needs in the school.
Many of the actions taken by school-based teams are about resource allocation. For example, the school-based team may determine a need for a teacher assistant to work with a particular student or students, or, alternatively, that the support of a trained special education teacher would be of more assistance to several teachers and students. The school-based team may make priority decisions about how special education resources are used.
The way this should work is described in No. 1 of The BCTF Case Studies: Partners for Inclusion. "School-based control allows the Special Education Department (and other staff) to know what resources are available, to plan ahead, and to make constantly needed changes without seeking approval by persons who know little of real school needs. For the district, school-based funding eliminates: 'people lined up at the door with a show and tell, moan and groan process and...glossy preparations trying to get money.' " (p. 39)
Although school-based teams have been operating in some schools for a long time, little study of the success or problems of these teams has been undertaken. Such a study might be of use in identifying the conditions under which successful and educationally sound school-based decision-making can take place, within a clear, but limited, mandate.
- Training for Effective Decision-making
Any version of school-based decision-making that is effective will likely involve some form of staff committee. Effectiveness can be enhanced by training. This training should include how to make good decisions, but also how to tell when school-based decision-making is appropriate--or not appropriate--and who should or should not be included.
The BCTF Research Department, in conjunction with the Staff Representative Training Program, has commissioned a set of case studies of effective staff committees. The research is being carried out by teachers who are looking at staff committees in six schools that reflect a range of grade levels and areas of the province. These case studies, which will be published, are aimed at use in the training of staff committees on effective representation and decision-making.
Balcolm, Susan. "Back-to-basics high school sought in Surrey." Vancouver Sun, January 12, 1996.
Martin, Roy, and others. "Devolution, Decentralization and Recentralization: The Structure of Australian Schooling." Australian Education Union, 1994.
Nanaimo School District. "Participatory Management." May 1995.
Lowry, Cindy. "School Based Budgeting." Presentation to School Trustees, District 68 Education Committee.
Lowry, Cindy. "Results of Survey on School-based Budgeting." Nanaimo District Teachers' Association.
Odden, Allan and William Clune. "Improving Educational Productivity and School Finance." Educational Researcher, December 1995, pp. 6-10, 22.
Robertson, Susan L. "Fast Schools in the Postmodern Era." Teachers' Work/Teachers' Unions (newsletter of an American Education Research Association interest group), Winter 1995.
Taylor, Bill, and Sukrit Parmar. The BCTF Case Studies: Partners for Inclusion, No. 1--South Peace Secondary School. BCTF, 1993.
Wylie, Cathy. "School-site Management--Some Lessons from New Zealand." Paper given at the annual AERA meeting, April 1995.