Wish Lists and Half Measures

from_breaking)badI recently started helping a school plan a fairly large IT budget. The scope is not only broad in the areas this budget will impact, but the projects will span from 2014-2018. Before I began planning I asked to see the previous budget and documentation prepared by the previous IT Coordinator. The title of the budget, written on the actual document not just the file name, was “Wish List”.

After researching the items on the list and comparing the year’s receivables, I noticed that 30% of the items on the wish list were not ordered. When I asked accounting and IT, “Why were these not ordered?”, they said, “Because it was a wish list and not actual requirements.”

I cannot think of an accountant anywhere that would process a budget titled “Wish List”. Not only is the format simply wrong, but it is does not connect the order to the curriculum or business operations. “Wish List” makes everyone infer that the items are not critical to any organizational process.

This whole process got me thinking. I wondered how many schools budget with idealistic terms and conditions. I also wondered how many schools realize what kind of damage and disorder ordering in half measures causes.

Budgets needs to be built on plans. Plans need to contain everything they need to work. Orders should not be placed unless all the pieces of the plan are included. It really is the same as buying furniture. You would not buy a sofa without the cushions, or a chair without legs. So you should not order 100 wireless devices without the access points and the controller to manage those access points.You cannot order laptops for graphic design and not buy the software. You cannot start a video production class without cameras and some platform for editing. I could go on, and on.

When budgeting, especially for IT, the budget should be specific and definitive. Multiple tabs in a should represent divisional needs, individual high cost projects, administrative sections, software, subscriptions, and any vendor that has a core relationship with the school. This means a workbook full of spreadsheets that summarize on a final spreadsheet that can be used for discussions. And if you don’t use spreadsheets, then just make sure it is organized and easy to explain.

If it goes in the budget, then it is something the organization needs. Some needs out rank others, so they need to be organized in order of importance. If trimming is required, changes can be made easily.

If you take time to add something to the budget, then you should be able to defend the need and connect it to an organizational or curriculum process. If you can’t do that, then save the money for training and professional development. Everyone could use a little CISCO in their life.

Tony DePrato


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