Guest blogger Latanya Vicks is a Philadelphia native with over nine years of education and finance experience. Vicks assists in leading the annual budgeting process and conducts financial analyses to help Team 2020 better understand spending and make sound organizational decisions. Vicks explains how Strategic Initiative 10 creates greater transparency and empowers budget managers to maximize the impact of their spending to drive student achievement.
YES Prep aims to be financially strategic and sustainable on public funding. This year, we prioritized overhauling the budget process with a specific focus on:
- Developing a campus staffing model to improve efficiency and minimize cost without sacrificing student results
- Allocating funds equitably according to student and campus need.
We’re happy to report that as of March, we are well underway with this overhaul. This charge was a major undertaking requiring much input from stakeholders across the organization. Our budget team, Director of Financial Planning and Budgets Jessica Seff, Chief Schools Officer Phil Wright, Director of School Strategy Ross Knorr, and I drove much of the process analysis and development. We led a series of input gathering meetings with school directors, operations staff, athletic directors, Team 2020, HOSs, and home office budget managers on factors that affect the budgeting process. It was important that the decision making was not only financially sound, but encouraged equity of voice and allocated resources in a way that had maximum positive outcomes for kids.
Campus Staffing Model
One of the most significant changes to the budget process was the way that we budget for campus staff. All campuses were allocated a certain amount of “units” or staff count based on student enrollment and percentage of SpEd and LEP students. School directors can trade back some of these units for different staff that best meet their individual campus needs. Additionally, 2% of all money allocated for staff will be reserved for campuses whose needs exceed their unit allotment. This model affords school leaders flexibility to staff creatively and ensures that they do not have to cut non-salary campus expenses to afford necessary staff for high-needs students. It also means campuses with more high-salaried, experienced teachers can still afford the additional staff or resources they need. All campuses can simply ask: “What’s best for my students?”
We centralized responsibility for major expenses such as core IT supplies, software licenses, textbooks, novels, and testing costs under the academics and information technology teams, where appropriate. And for the first time ever, all YES Prep campuses will have access to the same core sports, and each YES Prep student will have the opportunity to attend both an 8th and 11th grade spring trip. These costs are now fully covered centrally, providing a similar academic experience for all students at each of our 18 campuses.
Equitable Discretionary Funding
We allocated $3 million in discretionary funds across campuses using a weighted average of free and reduced lunch population (50%) and at-risk status (50%) as a proportion of total sub-populations; this will be used by campuses to supplement core programming with extras such as non-core sports, professional development, field trips and supplies. This new methodology will have a huge impact on schools such as Gulfton and Northbrook High School, which traditionally needed more resources than our previous formula supported.
We are also introducing new guidance around student fees. An analysis from last year showed that fees varied widely across campuses, creating barriers to participation in certain critical activities that we believe our students should have access to. The new fees guidance standardizes fees across campuses and places maximums on what can be collected from students for various supplies and activities. The goal was to ensure that our families won’t have to make hard decisions about whether they can afford for their child to have the best academic experience possible.
Each day, we’re faced with the challenge of maintaining the financial health of the organization in the face of cuts to state and federal funding; however, we’re deeply committed to allocating those limited resources in a way that provides a quality education to all students. With this strategic initiative, our aim was to divert as many resources as possible into the classroom and weave equity into the fabric of the budget process. On the budget team, we truly believe that “All means ALL” and that this is reflected in equitable distribution of funds based on student and campus need and a staffing model that is efficient, sustainable, and drives towards academic results across the system.