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Summer budget workshops help district leaders decipher fiscal and policy changes

Summer budget workshops help district leaders decipher fiscal and policy changes

As a former superintendent and new to his position as KSDE’s deputy commissioner of fiscal and administrative services for the Kansas State Department of Education, Frank Harwood can relate to the cliché, “you don’t know what you don’t know.” 

(Pictured above: left, KSDE's Frank Harwood and Dale Brungardt)

Harwood and Dale Brungardt, KSDE’s director of school finance, are preparing for this summer’s round of budget workshops for superintendents, business managers, clerks and other district officials, June 12-26, in eight locations across Kansas. As has been tradition, there will be a one-day session devoted solely to superintendents new to their position on July 2, in Salina. 

The biggest issue for these new district leaders going into their budget season this summer, Harwood said, is “the unknowns.” He said they often don’t know what their budgets will be for the current school year until closer to the end of the fiscal year that ends on June 30.  

“The biggest parts for new superintendents are, ‘do I understand all of how everything works together well enough to make good, informed choices going forward?’” he said. “The next thing that is probably the scariest for new superintendents is, can I make sure that I do each of the individual steps correctly so that we actually have a working budget at the end because there are a lot of deadlines you have to meet. Not meeting them can impact whether you can levy taxes or what your budget authority is.” 

Harwood said there are some new superintendents who are coming directly from the classroom without administrative experience and the phrase “you don’t know what you don’t know” comes into play, especially in the months of July, August and sometimes September.  

“Which is scary,” he said. “You’re making decisions that determine how much funding you have access to for that year.” 

Despite the unknowns and learning curves for new school leaders, Harwood said KSDE provides numerous resources and support for new and continuing superintendents and other district officials who need help with their budget processes.  

Harwood said each new superintendent also has access to a mentor (through the Kansas Educational Leadership Institute, or KELI) and service centers offer a variety of resources including budget support. He said KSDE also will do budget reviews with any district that requests it. In addition to KSDE, the Kansas Association of School Boards, the Kansas School Superintendent Association and United School Administrators of Kansas also offer numerous resources and supports to new and continuing superintendents and other administrators. 

It’s important administrators know they can reach out to KSDE and any of these organizations at any time to ask questions, Harwood said. 

“Your questions are not a burden,” he emphasized. “We’re here to help…and anything that you don’t understand is important to ask about.” 

This summer’s round of workshops will be the fourth for Dale Brungardt as KSDE’s director of school finance. He said he’s found a camaraderie among the superintendents, business managers and others who attend the workshops each year. 

“You’re all fighting the same battle,” he said. “You’re all in the same trench.” 

Brungardt said he and Harwood try to anticipate what questions will be asked during the workshops, but they also expect to learn a lot from those who will attend the workshops and what their questions are about the budget process. 

“We’re looking forward to getting out on the road,” Brungardt said. 

Harwood said the summer workshops are much more than just going over the budget changes lawmakers make in the spring. He said the meetings also are used to update district officials on policy changes from the previous legislative session. 

“I would say in the last decade, 15 years, there have been more policy statutes come out,” he said. “The budget workshop has expanded beyond just budget into education policy. So much of what has come from the legislature is policy-related and not solely budget-related.” 

Harwood said of the fiscal changes that will go into effect this year, the one that will have the largest impact on districts’ budgets will be House Substitute for SB 73, the legislation that establishes the years districts can use for student counts for determining their budgets. 

“When it comes to the straight budget, that is the biggest impact,” he said, adding that districts will have to decide which year they will take their counts from.  

Harwood said changes to the special education formula and at-risk funding are generating the most conversation and “causing the most confusion” among district officials this year. He said those items will be the topic of the most conversation during this summer’s workshops. 

“When you look at all the legislative changes that we’ll talk about,” he said, “we’ll spend more time on special education and at-risk than most of the rest of them combined.” 

Posted: May 30, 2024,
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