The Cost of Doing Business

I had a heated argument last week with a teacher about printing. One of the issues on the table, and the one that stuck in my mind, was that the teacher wanted to have all their students print projects.  Normally this is not something that is even discussed. Students have areas they can print from. If they have laptops the students can even print in certain areas directly from their laptops.

The thing was, and is, these students are in Grade 4-5. They have normal IT courses and none of them have laptops. According to their curriculum, and historical practice, all the printing was done during IT class.  These classes, however, are not coordinated with the homeroom teachers’ activities.  So one homeroom teacher came to me looking for a solution.

Now, that is the background. However, the issue with giving these students more printing options has nothing to do with technology and everything to do with budgets. In fact, I find most teachers have no idea how our budget works. It got me thinking that maybe I should explain it.

Every year the various line-items in the budget get listed based-on need. Hopefully that need will be researched. Then the budget is submitted, and we fight over cuts and compromises. In the end we have line-items, and we want to spend each one down to zero.

So we are half way through the year and the grade 4-5 printing budget is about half way gone. If we enable 200 plus students to start printing off their curriculum plan, then that budget will be exhausted before the year ends. Overages in printing in 2012 are difficult to explain when everyone is pushing for printing reduction. …Use less, reuse when you can, recycle often…I think many people have gotten this message and in order to really support it you cannot and should not easily compromise.

It is important for budgeting practices to have discipline, but I also believe they should be communicated to people who are doing planning and research in individual departments. These people should understand and see the budgets that connect to their budgets. People seem to assume that paper, ink, electricity, etc are all automatically included in their curriculum plans.

The true cost of doing business is something that is regularly calculated outside of education, even if it is ignored on risk and carelessness. However, in education cost is often seen as departmental instead of communal or institutional. This can cause waste and shortfalls because all sides of the equation are not understood. In economics this is called an asymmetry of information.  I think some simple policies and improved communication can bring about an equilibrium, and I am really going to make an effort to get some balance back in the budgeting.

As always we are curious if you have any budgeting related comments or stories. It is not the most exciting topic, but it is something that affects everyone.

Tony DePrato

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