Innovation vs. Economy : How long before you implement innovation?

We’ve been having a debate lately tied to budget.  I get that budgets are tight and that we need to be very cautious in spending money as thoughtfully as possible to get the most bang for the buck.  Usually I’m the preacher on this one, not just a member of choir and rarely sitting in the congregation.  Here’s my quandry…

We’re in the process of implementing “zero-based budget” which has been explained to me as all money provided must be justified and all money spent must be accounted for.  We do that in my house, and I don’t mind doing it in my school.  The problem comes in the time-frame for creating the budget.  Right now, in order to have a solid budget in place for a new school year (starting July 1), we need to have budget requests in by June 1.  The first time I heard that, I thought it was awesome, until I found out it was June 1 the year before we want to implement the new initiative.

Basically, this is the timeline of events….

  • December2009 – teacher goes to a conference and finds out about ___________ .  She does the research and by January is convinced it will transform not only her classroom but her entire department.  She goes to her teaching team, department,  building tech coordinator, and her principal.  All agree it’s a phenomenal idea.
  • June 2010 – Proposal submitted to tech director for review.  Tech dept makes sure the proposal is doable and uses the best tools for the job, then it gets pricing on the items.
  • Early fall 2010 – Admin team evaluates proposals, decides which fly for the following year and prioritizes the options.
  • July 2011 – New school year, new budget, purchases can be made.
  • Fall 2011 – Classroom implementation begins.

In the case of a large-scale initiative where the first year of implementation is a pilot, the continuation would need to be submitted June 1 of the year before the pilot began to make sure it was vetted for consideration in time for the new budget cycle.  It would need to be budgeted before the pilot was half-way through the year, or we’d need to assume the pilot would be successful and budget accordingly.

Fortunately, we do have an instructional technology budget used to purchase regular supplies (at least for now; however the zero-based budget may not allow it in the future).  Unfortunately, there’s not a lot of wiggle room in said budget.  It’s enough to replace a broken camera here or buy a hard drive there, but it’s not enough to pay for an interactive white board for a math teacher who’s hyped after seeing it at a conference or buy a class set of iPods and microphones for a language teacher who’s realized that it’s a great device for listening and speaking exercises in her classroom.

As a technology coordinator, I’m also a teacher.  In either world, I know how difficult it can be to get a teacher to significantly change practice.  As a teacher, when I get fired up about something meaningful to me/my dept/my curriculum, do my homework, and come up with a plan to make it work only to be told I won’t know until sometime the next school year whether or not we can do it the year following, I don’t feel encouraged or supported.    Instead, it encourages me to be what my old principal used to call an independent contractor – close the door, do my own thing, find my own funding, benefit only my students.  It makes things simple in the short run, especially for those of us who are resourceful and have the will to make things happen, but in the long run, it just doesn’t feel right.  I’d rather just be told no – can’t afford it than be strung along for 18+ months only to find it’s not a high enough priority.

Right now I’m wishing we had a system which allowed long-range goal-setting w/shorter-term budgets.  School years are often divided into semesters, trimesters, or quarters (as are business budgets).  Pity we can divide school budgets the same way…  Your solutions/suggestions?