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What is the school district budget cycle?

Budget Overview

The school district budget process is a complex year-round process. The never-ending cycle of budget preparation and adoption, budget implementation and budget review and audit means that school districts are always operating in overlapping fiscal years.

As school districts begin the fiscal year on July 1, they are beginning implementation of that year's budget. They are also in the midst of the budget review and audit process for the prior fiscal year and simultaneously beginning the budget preparation process for the next fiscal year. In short, the development of a school district budget is a detailed and complex process that consumes a significant amount of time from both school administrators and school board members.

As we reported in last week’s 
Daily Data, school district budgets have three levels of government (local, state and federal) providing the bulk of the revenue.These revenue sources are independent of each other, which means that projecting future revenues must be a three-step process with many unknowns and annual variations. On the expenditure side, there are detailed accounting requirements for a myriad of expenses ranging from the cost of building maintenance to student transportation, classroom supplies and school lunch and breakfast preparation.

Each school district has a budget calendar that provides a timeline of key dates for the budget process. The actual budget calendar (shown below) utilized by North Penn School District in Montgomery County provides an excellent overview of the major milestones for the adoption of their budget.
Acknowledging the tremendous variation in PA’s 500 school districts, a “typical” school district budget contains about $35 million in revenues. The range in budget size reflects the variation in size of students educated by the district. Last week, our maps showed you the significant range in the size of Pennsylvania school districts. Our largest district—Philadelphia School District—has more than 200,000 students as measured by ADM count or more than 8% of all students in the state. The next largest district, in terms of students, is Pittsburgh School District with about 26,000 students. At the other end of the size spectrum are 80 districts with less than 1,000 students each.

Not surprisingly, the size of the school district and the number of students impacts the size of the budget. Philadelphia School District easily has the largest school district budget with about $3.3 billion in revenues for the 2017-18 school year. Twenty-six school districts in 2017-18 had total revenues of less than $20 million each.