How to Overcome the Top 7 K-12 Budgeting Challenges of 2020

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After a turbulent spring and summer of social distancing and planning for the 2020-2021 school year (amid a pandemic), it feels like we just settled into our new normal. However, the end of the year is near and that means it’s time for K-12 budgeting.

K-12 budgeting is a complicated beast under standard circumstances. How do you go about planning when there is so much uncertainty in the world?

We’ve listed the top budgeting challenges for K-12 schools in 2020 and how to plan for the unknown while getting everything you need in 2021.

#1 Time-Relevant Supplies

The year 2020 has taught us never to underestimate the added cost of paper towels, masks, hand sanitizer and other cleaning supplies. At times, it has been difficult to even stock these items. And every time you turn around, inventory is running low.

While you also don’t want to allocate too much of your budget to cleaning goods, one simple solution is to ask for donations by letting your community know what you need. You could even host a contest and reward the classroom that gathers the most supplies from your list.

If you start sourcing supplies now, you’ll be able to save your budget for other resources.

#2 Teaching Staff

Whether you started in-person, virtual or blended learning, the reality is a some of your teachers may not feel comfortable returning.

This pandemic isn’t over, and will likely affect your teacher count for the foreseeable future. It will also affect how many teachers you need based on how many students plan on attending.

Survey your staff and the families in your district via email and your communication app. Then, estimate how many students to expect in school and how many will be attending virtually. Although, conditions can certainly change between now and then. You can at least gain a better idea of your teaching staff needs so you can plan and budget accordingly.

#3 Student Transportation

Similar to teaching staff, surveying your district provides a better idea for the amount of buses and drivers you’ll need in 2021. It’s possible you’ll need more drivers and buses than you did in the past to ensure proper social distancing.

It’s a good idea to get in contact with your drivers, too. See how they feel about driving for the upcoming school year, and review extra sanitizing precautions and social distancing guidelines. Laying out realistic expectations now can help you prevent a staff shortage later.

#4 Virtual Learning

Although virtual learning will be nothing new next year, it will absolutely factor into K-12 budgeting. Do teachers and students have all the tools they need this year? Do you have additional investments to make? Are you providing computers for students? Do your students and staff have reliable internet? Are you able to provide mobile hotspots for those who need help with internet?

With this year’s attendance numbers and the student survey data, you can more accurately forecast for virtual learning. That also allows you to proactively place teachers who prefer to remain virtual, giving them a greater sense of ease.

#5 School Food Service

In June, the USDA offered flexibilities to make it easier for nutrition programs to continue feeding students on and off-campus.

The waivers allowed meals to be served outside of standard times and locations. Most importantly, the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) and the Seamless Summer Option (SSO) can continue to provide no-cost meals to all children, available at over 90,000 sites across the country, through June 30, 2021.

This came with huge cost savings and reduced meal debt for districts across the nation. But with no guarantee it will continue into the 2021-2022 school year, it’s safe to budget for typical nutrition costs based on your estimated attendance.

With integrated nutrition technology complete with historical data reporting and smart inventory management, you’ll be prepared to serve and make efficient use of your budget.

#6 Social Distancing

Although schools were never meant to be a socially distanced environment, districts worldwide have risen to the occasion to keep their communities safe.

Requiring masks, rearranging school spaces to accommodate proper safety guidelines, and adjusting school drop-off procedures are just a few of the ways schools have done their part to maintain a healthy learning atmosphere.

One other way to promote social distancing is to keep parent and guardian visits to a minimum. If you haven’t gone virtual with your registration and payment processes yet, now is the time.

When budgeting for the upcoming school year, keep in mind that online registration and online payment technology is affordable, convenient, and the safest option out there.

#7 Unforeseen Circumstances

We get it. Planning for the future is incredibly difficult right now. But if 2020 has taught us anything it’s to expect the unexpected. That very lesson should apply to your K-12 budgeting strategy this year. 

At any point schools could be shut down again or you could be required to install an upgraded HVAC system. Anything can happen. If at all possible, reserve a portion of your funds for these surprises so that you’re covered later on.

Key Takeaway

K-12 budgeting is a topic that is making most districts cringe right about now, and rightfully so. There is so much to prepare for and so much that can change. It’s close to impossible to plan anything at all. 

With part of a school year underway, you have data to help identify trends, what’s been working, and what hasn’t.

With some additional insights from your district paired with the right technology, like the LINQ user-friendly budget builder, you have the resources you need to prepare for a safe and healthy school year.

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