As we approach the new millennium, reflection on the past and contemplation of the future can provide insight into the challenges facing school administrators. Among the issues bound to have an impact on school business management include:
-Funding. The U.S. Department of Education shows that the United States invests heavily in education. In fiscal year 1996, the nation spent more than $500 billion-$30.6 billion of which was money supplied by the federal government-on elementary, secondary and higher education. Additionally, schools are becoming more entrepreneurial by using business partnerships and innovative funding for equipment and facilities.
Across the country, more of the money is going towards special-education instruction. And in the last five years, K-12 educational technology spending has doubled to more than $4.1 billion. Wide disparities in state, local and federal per-pupil expenditures persist. For example, in 1997-98, estimated per-pupil expenditures varied from $9,577 in New Jersey to $4,036 in Mississippi. Experts predict that these trends will continue because increasing student enrollments will continue to create fiscal stress on poorer states and school systems.
-Performance measures. Political and business leaders, as well as the general public, will be willing to support increased funding for schools only if there is convincing proof that money is generating positive results. Cost-benefit studies to determine elements that strengthen student achievement have created more demand for student test data and performance measures. Intensified accountability, whereby schools compete for limited resources, highlights the current weaknesses of education data and statistics. A priority in the future will be the development of better achievement indicators.
-Human resources. Education is a labor-intensive operation. Competition for a limited talent pool will increase as the population shifts and the rapid pace of economic growth squeezes the labor market. For instance, between 2000 and 2015, the number of people between the ages of 35 and 44 is predicted to decline by 15 percent and drain an important segment of the workforce. The need to retain staff will result in increased in-service training and retraining. Information, resources and power will have to be shared, and decisions will have to be made jointly. School administrators will be responsible not only for developing the mechanisms that make this process possible, but also for fostering an environment of collaboration.
-Business management. Technological advances are affecting the way schools are managed. Twenty years ago, the fax machine was barely known in school districts. Today, businesses worldwide spend more than $60 billion sending faxes. By the year 2000, it is estimated that 10 percent of all telecommunications will take place over the Internet rather than over voice networks, up from the current rate of less than 2 percent.
School administrators already are incorporating technology into their work by using electronic fund transfers to pay vendors, receive revenues, invest funds and issue paychecks. Schools also are using debit cards, cooperative purchasing ventures and interagency collaboratives, while they are studying outsourcing of support functions. The majority of school districts even have replaced mainframe payroll and personnel systems with wide-area networks (WANs) that maintain district data and facilitate customized reports. While the paperless office may be a vision of the future, increased efficiencies will be achieved as 21st-century business practices are incorporated in school districts.
-School facilities. According to the U.S. General Accounting Office, about a quarter of the nation's school buildings need repairs, with modernization costs estimated at $112 billion. Some states have made the improvement of their educational infrastructures a priority. In time, others will have no choice but to correct the effects of deferred maintenance and neglect. To meet demands for a longer school day and school year, school plants will have to stay open longer. School safety, year-round facility needs and wiring for technology all will have to be addressed as new schools are constructed. As enrollments increase and the demand for smaller class sizes persists, school construction and modernization will emphasize flexible room configurations, technological capacities and energy efficiency.
-District consolidations. Despite strong local home-rule traditions, interest in school district consolidation is growing. Public opinion does not always favor regionalization of services. But that fact may change as dollars become more scarce and regional systems continue to offer substantial operational savings, better programs and improved facilities, demonstrating that sharing resources increases the viability and quality of district services.
-School food programs. Food-service operations must continue to satisfy client tastes, keep prices low and compete with fast-food marketing strategies while meeting federal nutritional requirements. Work is intensified by the fact that many rural- and urban-school food programs are the only source of nutritious meals for some pupils.
-Transportation. Improved routing software, global positioning equipment and communication devices all are affecting the transportation industry. School-bus safety continues to propel the seatbelt debate, bus-construction improvements and driver-training programs. While school transportation needs will continue to grow, the student population served may vary as preschool and adult use of educational services increases. Transportation resources will have to be stretched to accommodate changing work-site locations, daycare, school-to-work transition, continuing education and social programs.
-Social services. Because of their unique position at the center of the community, schools will continue to be asked to meet not only the academic needs of pupils, but also to provide the basic nutrition, health care and nurturing that previous generations considered the responsibility of the family. Delivering health, welfare, counseling, safety and evaluation services will continue to require a coordinated effort by municipal, educational and social-services agencies.
-Technology. School districts are responding to demands for access to technology as quickly as technology is changing. Digital assistants, voice-recognition software, palm computers, fiber networks, T-1 hookups, distance-learning capability and full Internet access are becoming the standard for model classrooms. However, the utopian image of the computerized classroom may be more difficult to reach than some expect, and technology will not have a true impact until teachers and students discover how, where and why to apply it.
As we progress into the digital age, rapid change and increasing complexity will permeate our lives and organizations. School districts and their stakeholders will not be exempt from the challenges of the future. But, with the evolution of our educational systems, success at creating world-class educational environments should continue.