Guest Post: To save money in tight financial times, one teacher says — Decentralize!

August 6, 2010 •

Editor’s note: Each Friday we feature guest bloggers that are involved in rethinking what is possible with schooling and the education system.

During this Great Recession a system that was already being squeezed is seeing a bleak financial future. The instinct of centrally-managed systems in times of financial distress is to harden, and centralize further.

This may in fact be the precise wrong thing to do. Instead as the schooling system faces a financial crisis more and more discretion should be given to the ‘users’ of the system—the teachers—to figure out how to best meet learning goals with the resources available.

In this post Gigi Dobosenski, a teacher at EdVisions Off Campus (an online, project-based learning school), describes how teacher-control in decision making at that school leads to better management of money in times of financial stress.

EdVisions Off Campus (EOC) is an online project based learning charter school. Like other online and charter schools in the state we received state funding. Unlike other online charter schools we are managed by the teachers. That means all of our teachers are treated as professionals with the experience and knowledge to make decisions for the school and students. This is similar to other professionals such as lawyers, doctors and accountants. Lawyers are partners in a firm; teachers are partners in a school.

Teachers want to work in the EOC environment because its partnership model gives them empowerment, ownership and recognition as a professional.

The decision making process used by EOC allows all staff members to have a say. By using a process that involves discussion and consensus, even the toughest decisions regarding the budget can be made. As a result of the ownership teachers feel, decisions are not made as an individual but for the school. We ask, what will be best for the students and the organization?

At a time when financial crisis faces all schools, why not turn the decisions over to the teachers? As teachers, we work directly with the beneficiaries of the public dollars, the students. When creating a budget in the spring, the staff of EOC discusses what the needs are regarding the school wide goals, technology and personnel. Teachers are aware of the costs of each individual person on staff and what it means if an individual is given a raise. Difficult decisions are made regarding cuts and additions to the budget. As professionals, teachers are able to make intelligent decisions on salary based on experience, what individuals bring to the school, and balancing these factors with the actual money that is provided by the state.

Yes, this means there are years that no one receives a pay increase, but this is a logical decision. The state does not provide more financing, therefore more money cannot be spent.

In a day to day sense, the teachers continue to make finance decisions. With consultation to the budget, the staff decides what things money is spent on, and then they bring their decisions to the board.

It takes teachers who are passionate about their work, willing to learn how to make decisions, and also those who have the ability to look at the big picture regarding the school program to be involved in a TPP. Do those of us at EOC see this as a way to run schools in the future? Of course. Teachers should be treated as professionals and be informed on how the school works at all levels—personnel, finances and curriculum.

EOC manages itself through site-based teams of teachers addressing curriculum, school wide goals, technology, personnel, special education and finances. Teachers work together to establish the mission, vision and goals of the school and the teams make decisions based on what is best for the students and our mission as a school.