5 FIVE YEARS OF PROGRESS ON IMPROVING PROCESSES: Best Practices in School and Community College Budgeting.

Author:Bubness, Matt

GFOA started developing its Best Practices in School Budgeting program five years ago to provide a comprehensive budget process framework for school districts. Budgeting and planning are crucial components of an organization's ability to succeed. While the development of comprehensive annual financial reports and audits are guided by generally accepted accounting principles, the Governmental Accounting Standards Board, GFOAs own guidelines, and other sources, budgeting is less structured by nature and has few broad guidelines--even though the basic principles of budgeting are fairly universal. In addition, the need for better budgeting is ever more pressing, given the constant pressures to provide high-quality services with limited resources. This is especially true in school districts, where budget decisions can affect the education of future generations. GFOA therefore took the opportunity to better support school districts by developing best practices to provide guidance and elevate standards for the budget process on a broader basis.

After conducting research, GFOA developed a similar comprehensive framework for community colleges, as the similarities and focus on student outcomes created synergies between the projects. The Best Practices for Community College Budgeting were developed using an approach that was similar to the one outlined below for school district best practices.

While the goal of each project--to offer a high-quality award based on budget process improvements--is just coming to fruition, participants in the development process and early adopter groups have realized a number of benefits. This article will provide highlights of how the project was developed and adopted, an overview of the framework, and summaries of some participants' success stories.


Initially, the Best Practices in School Budgeting was two separate projects--the GFOA-led best practices development and the Smarter School Spending project, led by several consulting firms working in conjunction with four large school districts from across the United States. The similarities between the two projects were apparent from the beginning, as they both relied on the knowledge of school districts and on developing similar frameworks for a comprehensive budget process. The intended outputs of each project, however, were quite different.

The GFOA project produced a comprehensive framework and, eventually, a corresponding publication, clearly laying out concepts and guidelines for school districts to follow while working toward an improved budget process. Smarter School Spending laid out a similar high-level framework through a new website, smarterschoolspending.org. It also provided tools and resources that the management consulting firms developed while working intensively with the four districts to completely revamp their budget processes over a period of one year. After a year or two working more independently, the two projects were merged, and GFOA ultimately took ownership of the content and management of Smarter School Spending to ensure the long-term alignment and provision of the associated resources to a wider audience at no cost.

The Best Practices in School Budgeting began as a way for GFOA to expand its budget-related offerings beyond its more budget document-centered best practices and information about specific, often quite technical, aspects of budgeting. The project also provided an opportunity to pursue ways of expanding and improving the scope...

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