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Financial Case Studies: "Empowering Board Members to Make Informed Financial Decisions that Benefit Students: A Collective Journey of Advocacy and Impact”

Financial Case Studies: "Empowering Board Members to Make Informed Financial Decisions that Benefit Students: A Collective Journey of Advocacy and Impact”

Over the past couple of years, School Board Partners (SBP) collected board achievements from SBP fellows and alumni that showcase board financial decision-making in action. From Chicago Public Schools in Illinois to Chesterfield County School District in Virginia, each case study represents a unique journey of transformation within the realm of education finances.

As the second installment of our case study blog series, we follow the journeys of six dedicated and passionate school board members from different districts across the United States. They all share a common goal: to advocate for equitable access to quality education and make informed financial decisions that benefit students. These board members, through their dedication and access to valuable resources and training, have made significant strides in advocating for equitable education and responsible financial decisions in their respective districts. Their collective journey highlights the power of data, advocacy, and collaboration in shaping the future of education for all students.

To read our first case study blog on successful policies passed by SBP board members, click here.

Phoenix Union High School District (AZ) and Strategic Inquiry

Aaron Marquez, SBP Cohort 5 and school board member for Phoenix Union High School District in Arizona. The district includes 23 schools and serves nearly 28,000 students. Over 95% of the district’s enrollment are students of color and 86% are students experiencing poverty.

As ESSER comes to an end, Aaron was unclear how his district was preparing to address some of the common financial challenges facing many districts. Following a financial session at the School Board Partners (SBP) training in Atlanta in spring 2023, he used a tool — questions school board members can ask their districts — that was shared. After asking the district questions, he relayed the response from the district, and his financial coach provided him further follow-up questions to support him in his goal of getting more information. For example, after he asked for a multi-year forecast, the district said that forecasting can be challenging due to uncertain state revenues, so it was suggested that he ask for multiple revenue scenarios for the next three years. This allowed Aaron to address questions with nuance to help the board gain a more substantive and informative financial picture.

Because the board was able to see a fuller picture, they saw that one of the district’s schools was struggling financially because of low enrollment during its initial launch. The board used their more nuanced information to make the tough decision to close the struggling school and instead reimagine a micro-school.

Howard County Public Schools (MD) and Better Fiscal Conversations

Antonia Watts, SBP Cohort 4, Chair in 2023 and school board member for Howard County Public Schools in Maryland. The district includes 77 schools and serves over 57,000 students. 68% of the district’s enrollment are students of color and 15% are students experiencing poverty.

Antonia first received financial training through SBP in summer 2022. Antonia wanted to share school-by-school spending and outcomes data with district leaders and principals to fuel conversations about equity and serving students furthest from opportunity. SBP’s financial coach shared customized data and provided her with tips on communicating key findings. She reported sharing the data with district leaders and bringing it to schools when she visits principals.

In February 2023, she attended the national ESEA Conference to speak on a US Department of Education-sponsored session panel about how she’d used the financial data. She shared with hundreds of attendees about how, with these resources, her district was having conversations with principals about dollars and the outcomes those dollars generate for students for the first time. Antonia has attended several SBP financial training events, and she has attended several offerings from Edunomics Lab, including earning a Certificate in Education Finance.

Miami-Dade Public Schools (FL) and the Power of Visualization

Luisa Santos, SBP Cohort 4, District 9 school board member for Miami-Dade Public Schools in Florida. The district includes 499 schools and serves roughly 330,000 students. Over 90% of the district’s enrollment are students of color and 57% are students experiencing poverty.

After learning about the spending-and-outcomes visualizations at the financial training with SBP in summer 2022, Luisa received personalized support from SBP to prepare her and her staff to utilize the data. Luisa invited Edunomics Lab to meet with district central office leaders to share the data. Based on feedback from Luisa and the central office leadership team, the SBP financial coach developed an additional Miami-Dade-specific visualization tool.

Luisa attended the national ESEA Conference in February 2023 to share about her journey bringing these new data to Miami-Dade. She described how, prior to the financial training, she had no tool to understand the spending per student at her schools and many unanswered questions. Using the data provided her better understanding about Miami-Dade’s spending and performance. She shared that she has brought the data to meetings with principals, who reported that it was also their first time encountering the data. Luisa said that the engagement ultimately provided an opportunity for everyone to better consider the district’s return on its investments in students.

Chicago Public Schools (IL) and Realistic Forecasting

Sendhil Revuluri, SBP Cohort 3 and Chicago Public Schools Vice Chair until 2023. The district includes 646 schools and serves nearly 330,000 students. 90% of the district’s enrollment are students of color and 56% are students experiencing poverty.

SBP’s financial coach first started working with Sendhil in summer 2022, where he relayed that he was very concerned about Chicago’s structural budget challenges. The two discussed strategies for how he and the district could communicate a realistic 5-year forecast. The financial coach also developed a customized historical staffing versus enrollment visualization that Sendhil could use to show that, despite significant enrollment drops, Chicago added more staff, a trend that has significant costs. While he resigned from the CPS board, as part of his departure, he wrote anop-ed in Chalkbeat that highlighted the resource equity data he received from his financial coach. He has since completed two other Edunomics Lab training sessions that will support him in his next stage of advocacy.

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