In my previous post I presented my vision for world class schools at UCF. In a series of posts, I am going deeper into each of my six priorities for our schools.
Priority #6 – Financially Strong and Operationally Efficient
We need to be a district that is financially strong. Strength comes from a strong tax base, keeping a close watch on expenses, limiting long-term debt, and professionally managing the districts books. UCF has all of these strengths, and they must be watchfully maintained.
A strong tax base provides steady tax revenues to our schools, which provides year-to-year budgetary stability, and allows us to avoid cycles of layoffs and program cuts. This stability is a great asset. Moreover, the relationship between property values and world class schools is mutually reinforcing — great schools creates demand for housing, which sustains property values, which sustains great schools.
But great schools also keep a close eye on expenses. The goal is to not to spend the most on schools, but rather (like in any other industry) to provide the highest value to our community for every dollar that is spent. Millage rates are high in UCF, but a majority of our community believes we still are on the right side of the value equation. We must control the growth of expenses in our schools if we are to maintain this delicate balance and keep the trust and confidence of our taxpayers.
Operationally efficient schools find ways to reduce administrative costs and non-instructional expenses. And, knowing that instructional expenses are the single largest cost in the district, the most innovative districts also find ways to deliver more learning while staying within the limits of Act 1. This is an immense challenge, but the best organizations in the world accept the challenge of improving productivity year-in and year-out.
Our district needs to have a strong balance sheet. We should not carry large amounts of debt, and all debt that we do incur should only be to finance long-life assets like buildings. We should take a conservative approach to our financial projections, and protect our Aa1 credit rating (which places us in the top 3% of Pennsylvania school districts.)
We need strong financial systems, procurement practices, and controls. The district should continue to join together with other districts in purchasing arrangements to leverage our combined purchasing power. Our existing financial systems are adequate, and our most recent independent audit found no issues with the district’s financial controls. We must continue to run a tight ship, maintaining the good practices already in place and finding additional places to improve.
‘World class education’ does not mean ‘expensive’. Rather, it means that we derive the highest possible value from every dollar we spend on education. The tax payer is paying for the education of the community’s children, and we must be excellent stewards of each and every tax dollar.