One of the benefits of Michigan’s system of limited local control of education is that great ideas in how to educate children and administer non–instructional services abound. School districts from across the state are “thinking outside the box” and enacting money–saving reforms. This study has found some of these reforms and categorized six “habits” of fiscally responsible school districts.
Not all of these habits will be applicable for every public school district. For example, the recommendations in Habit 4 deal with leasing school buildings instead of buying them. This policy recommendation may not make financial sense for all districts, due to a number of factors: local market conditions, availability of appropriate space, willingness of private property owners to deal with school districts and the relative cost of leasing.
The fiscally responsible school district will explore all available options, analyze the costs and benefits, and make an informed decision. In short, business managers in the central administrative offices, working with the local school board and superintendent, should find the most efficient and effective way to maximize classroom resources and minimize non–instructional overhead.
This study strives to include examples of fiscal responsibility throughout the state, although some of the examples showcase innovative ideas that have worked in other states or even other countries. Also, this study is not a comprehensive assessment of how all of Michigan’s school districts are operating; rather, this report is a selection of good ideas and their implementation.
The report also provides examples of fiscally irresponsible districts where costly policies continue in effect, despite evidence that there could be dramatic savings by implementing one of more of these habits. These cases demonstrate the financial penalty districts unfortunately bear when they do not enact sound fiscal policy.
As noted above, this report documents examples from every corner of the state, including the largest and smallest of the state’s 554 public school districts. Adopting one or more of these habits can help save money no matter what the size or location of the district, so there is little excuse for districts not to explore one or more of these habits. As school districts in many areas of the state find their budgets in “crisis,” school boards should look to these habits for ideas on how to shore up budgetary shortfalls before resorting to tax increases or teacher layoffs.