Guest Post: Control over resources affects innovation

August 13, 2010 •

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

The schooling system of the United States needs to live within its means—now more than ever. To contain growing costs and to be effective with less money, schools need new, more insightful ways to allocate resources. One way is to withdraw the exclusive on who controls the resource allocations.

In this post Jim Wartman, an advisor (teacher) at Minnesota New Country School, describes how teacher-control in decision making at that school leads to better management of money in times of financial stress.

It’s possible to innovate with how revenue is allocated in schools. Here at Minnesota New Country School, this change is possible because of teachers’ professional ownership in our organization. Our staff, licensed and non-licensed, have the ability to weigh in on budget matters on a daily basis. Our system is designed to allow members of our community (students and parents as well) to understand what our budget consists of, in order to make decisions for resource allocations.

Our model has been to have overall long term goals in mind, which guides how we spend throughout a year, and big picture over five years. With the inability to go to voters for a referendum, we are forced to save for capital improvements. This guides our spending in a way that makes sense to us in the current economic times. We could up our own pay (we make decisions as a collective on our salaries), buy something that seems really cool but may only get used sporadically, or we could save for the long term school improvement goals, which mainly relate to our physical space.

When the stakeholders are aware of what the cost or value of a purchased item is, they tend to care for it better, as opposed to someone who feels a piece of equipment was allocated to them. If a staff member or student feels a purchase is warranted, they must get approval at our weekly staff meeting. In this way we are all aware of what we are acquiring, and who the primary person is who we entrust with it’s care. The act of asking for approval from colleagues goes a long way into assessing the necessity of a purchase, as you may have to defend why it is this is needed.

Much like any business owner, we not only desire for the school to be fiscally stable, but also know that our compensation is just. With ownership in the budget comes awareness of what it will bear for our own salaries. There is not a management team to bargain with, only ourselves. This requires difficult decisions to be made at times, but also takes away the ability to blame penny pinchers in administration or the public’s willingness to spend more on schools as the source of school problems.

At Minnesota New Country School we are the owners, we feel the ownership, and we act as owners. As such, we realize that the ultimate judgment comes from the students and their families. If we aren’t making the right decisions in our revenue allocations, they’ll notice. There are many other places they could go to school, but they don’t leave. That tells us a lot.