Academic journal article Rural Educator

Superintendent Perspectives of Financial Survival Strategies in Small School Districts

Academic journal article Rural Educator

Superintendent Perspectives of Financial Survival Strategies in Small School Districts

Article excerpt

The purpose of this qualitative, narrative study was to investigate the perceptions of successful small-school superintendents in regard to maintaining or improving district efficiency and financial status. Face-to-face interviews were conducted with seven purposefully selected small-school superintendents. Findings suggest that in their efforts to increase revenues, these superintendents are seeking to understand and to navigate the state's funding system to its maximum potential and to the greatest benefit for their districts. They are looking outside their districts for expert advice in their efforts toward improved revenue projection. Additionally, they are accepting out-of-district transfer students to generate revenue. Other areas of improved efficiency include personnel considerations, reducing district expenditures through purchasing and energy use.

Keywords: Superintendency; small school districts; finances; rural schools.

Demands on school administrators have risen dramatically, partially as a result of increased public scrutiny due to escalating costs in education (Brown & Cornwell, 2000). Consequently, for superintendents, the district budget is a great source of anxiety (Hayes, 2001). Glass and Franceschini (2007) reported that since 1923, nearly all of the ten-year studies conducted by the American Association of School Administrators (AASA) have revealed that superintendents consider their role in school finance to be the source of their most serious challenges. School superintendents are in charge of large amounts of public funds and are responsible for budgeting, collecting taxes and other revenues, overseeing the district's day-to-day fiscal operations, and reporting the financial status of the district in accordance with professional standards and state and federal statutes and regulations (Hartman & Stefkovich, 2005).

Dlott (2005) reported that many superintendents do not have a background in money management or budgeting. They are not competent in the art of saving money through cost containment, cutting back, or reallocating resources. In most instances, graduate schools do not teach school superintendents about creative resource management, budget cutting, and cost containment. At the same time, the future challenge for schools may be their need to facilitate higher student achievement in a time of flat or unstable resources (Kannapel & DeYoung, 1999; Odden & Picus, 2008). Thus, superintendents should take advantage of as many learning experiences as possible through reading and meaningful discussion with others who are knowledgeable about school finance (Dlott, 2005).

Rural communities comprise 97% of the United States' land mass and contain 60 million individuals (The University of Montana Rural Institute, 2005). Schools are considered to be rural when they are located in areas of sparse population, enroll a small student population, contain less infrastructure, and are geographically isolated (National Center for Education Statistics [NCES], 2006). Rural educators are responsible for educating 8.8 million students and 80% of rural districts enroll fewer than 600 students (NCES, 2006). The costs and benefits of rural schools have been debated for over a century. While there has been support for the small-school movement (Hylden, 2005), small schools are still generally perceived to be inefficient due to inherent diseconomies of scale (Kannapel & DeYoung, 1 999).

Statement of the Purpose and Research Questions

The purpose of this qualitative, narrative study was to identify effective financial management and fiscal efficiency practices used by superintendents within small school districts in Texas. The following questions guided the research for this qualitative study:

1. What is the district's financial background?

2. What management strategies have superintendents used in maintaining district financial well-being?

3. …

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