I like the term "race car". It invokes a sense of excitement and wonder and youthful enthusiasm. Race car happens to be a palindrome, meaning it is spelled the same backwards and forwards, which is kind of fun. It is also a part of a little analogy with which I've been tinkering. Next time you are in planning session, imagine for a moment you are the owner of a race car, and consider how much of your budget you would allot for things that don't make the car go faster. Granted, there are some areas of infrastructure that always require resources, but I bet you would carefully scrutinize every dollar that is spent in those other areas. Conversely, if you could add some speed in the stretch by spending a little here, and save one tire change a race by spending a little there, you are probably going to go ahead and build those items into your budget. Would you get stuck doing exactly what you did five or ten years ago because you went somewhat fast, or would you be willing to try something new to go a little faster yet? Professional race crews make these kinds of decisions every day, and the most successful teams rely on excellent judgement and years of experience, and they pay close, close attention to research. They are not afraid to innovate, and as a result, their race cars go very, very fast.
Now, take your school or district budget and go through the same series of questions, substituting "go faster" for "more learning" and you'll get what I'm driving at. (Ouch.) Seriously though, are you scrutinizing every single dollar spent in areas that don't lead to more learning? Are you building in items that do? Are you stuck doing the same thing you did five or ten years ago because the learning was fairly good or are you willing to try something new for a little more learning? Are you using your experience and judgement to its fullest capacity and are you paying close attention to research? Are you willing to innovate?
Over the next few weeks our District is conducting a series of School Services Alignment Planning meetings. It is an opportunity to review student projections, budgets, staffing, special education, and more. It gives the principals access to full district support so they can build the best business processes they can, and it gives senior staff a chance to learn more about the needs of our schools. It also provides a rich opportunity to consider the ways each school budget directly supports the School Improvement Plan, and makes sure that there a powerful and explicit alignment between school spending and student learning. It is a big investment in time for sure, but metaphorically speaking, it is already paying off in faster lap times.