School Business Officials Juggle Financial Challenges

Associate Editor

Kissimmee, Fla.

A juggler, gymnast, unicyclist and motivational speaker told about 1,000 school business officials gathered here Saturday about the importance of staying “on purpose” in an off-balanced world—a message that seemed to resonate with the K-12 leaders who work to meet schools’ needs in an often-changing budgetary environment.

“You stretch into uncertainty, and uncertainty stretches you,” said Dan Thurmon, the speaker who bounded about the stage, delivering a message about handling priorities while he performed feats like juggling wood-handled sharp objects from atop a 6-foot unicycle.

The message was not lost on the audience of district top financial officers, who gave a standing ovation to the performer, then gathered to educate themselves and compare notes as part of the four-day Association of School Business Officials International annual conference.

The district chief financial officers discussed educational funding formulas, reducing the risk of fraud, and how to communicate the complexities of their budgets to school boards, educators, and the public.

In a session that highlighted school funding challenges in different states, Pennsylvania was held up as an example of some of the pressures finance officers face. Pressures on expenditures are fourfold, said Jay Himes, executive director of the Pennsylvania Association of School Business Officials. They include: pensions that have increased from 1 percent of costs seven years ago to 32 percent; charter school tuition costs that are growing “almost exponentially,” as well as rising health-care and special education costs. A finance officer from Arizona said that nearly 600 charter schools in his state are receiving about 13 percent of public school funding, and Arizona Empowerment Scholarship Accounts give some Arizonans the opportunity to “cash out” of public education and receive funds to apply as parents see fit for their children’s education. 

Other topics business officials studied included:

  • Learning how community members were enlisted to serve on study groups, helping Township High School District 113 in Highland Park, Ill., successfully pass an $89 million bond referendum for an infrastructure and facilities project after a more ambitious proposal had been voted down two years before;
  • Studying the strategy and communication plan in the 2013 successful passage of a nearly $245 million bond initiative in Olathe, Kan., the largest in the district’s history, which will provide $114.4 million for a new high school, add a 36th elementary school, and increase security at 22 schools in the 28,870-student district; 
  • Finding out how to protect student data privacy with suggested contract language, such as that recommended earlier this year by the Consortium for School Networking and the Berkman Center for Internet at Society at Harvard University; and,
  • Understanding the intricacies of managing the administrative obligations from health-care reform; and,
  • Exploring the ongoing underfunding of special education services, and how to address the financial challenges this poses for districts.

More sessions are planned for Sunday and Monday as the conference continues, although no more jugglers are on the agenda. 


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