Site-Based Management for Savannah-Chatham Public Schools: Designing the Financial Support System

By Wardlaw, Jack,, III; Fields, David | Government Finance Review, June 1998 | Go to article overview

Site-Based Management for Savannah-Chatham Public Schools: Designing the Financial Support System


Wardlaw, Jack,, III, Fields, David, Government Finance Review


Emphasizing accountability and using tools developed to support site-based management, the school district now tracks financial inputs to the performance of a specific school.

Each year the Government Finance Officers Association bestows its prestigious Award for Excellence to recognize outstanding contributions in the field of government finance. The awards stress practical, documented work that offers leadership to the profession and promotes improved public finance. This article describes the 1997 winning entry in the policies and procedures subcategory of the financial management category.

The Savannah-Chatham County Public School District entered the 1990s faced with a significant philosophical and practical challenge: how to maintain positive momentum that leadership had earned with systemwide improvements and greater attention to public input, overcoming a legacy of distrust from the school district's desegregation struggles. Like public schools across the country, the system was faced with the fact that schools were not doing an effective job of preparing a global work force.

The latter half of the 1980s had seen the groundwork put in place. The electorate had supported the construction of the first bond-financed new schools since the height of the Vietnam War. Area business and industry actively campaigned for improved academic performance. New programs were developed to address the needs of the urban population, which is the attendance core of the 37,000-enrollment school system. Innovative, alternative desegregation measures such as magnet schools replaced cross-town busing and paired-grade schools in the struggle to overcome the area's racial segregation history. Flight to private schools and neighboring bedroom communities was slowed.

Accountability Through TQM

To consolidate those achievements and maintain that momentum, the school district's leadership in 1991 adopted a policy of total quality management (TQM). Acting on this philosophy, the Savannah-Chatham County Board of Education implemented a site-based management approach, giving each school greater decision-making authority and transforming the traditional central administrative role to one of support. The underlying belief is that those who work most closely with students know best what needs to be done on their behalf.

The school district's drive toward TQM, which emphasizes accountability, began several years before the Georgia Department of Education launched its own accountability movement. The state now issues reports on the performance of each individual public school in Georgia. By using tools developed to support site-based management, the Savannah-Chatham County Public School System is able to track financial inputs to the performance of a specific school. To the district's knowledge, it is the only one of Georgia's 180 school systems which is able to provide finance/performance information at the school, rather than the system, level.

TQM is a management philosophy that has its roots in the successful effort to rebuild Japan's industries after World War II. The same principals which guided that effort have been adapted effectively to serve business and industry in the United States and elsewhere. The Board of Education chose an innovative approach to bring TQM to education, and in so doing developed a site-based management model unique in the state of Georgia.

Site-based management called for a reengineering of policies and procedures throughout the school district. Among the necessary changes was the development of financial support systems that were tailored to support decentralized decision making, while still supporting the oversight and accountability that law and prudence required of the elected Board of Education.

The development of new financial policies and procedures to support site-based management was embedded in the entire implementation process. To understand how it was done, the entire process must be considered, not just the financial aspects alone. …

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