Budget efficiency studies all the rage

Budget efficiency studies all the rage

Last summer, the Albemarle County School Board contracted with the Commonwealth Educational Institute at Virginia Commonwealth University to conduct a “Resource Utilization Study” to make sure that the school division practices an efficient use of its resources.

“In hindsight, it was brilliant,” says at-large School Board member Brian Wheeler of that decision. Five months later, the Institute returned with its recommendations and county school Superintendent Pam Moran acted on them almost immediately.

"In hindsight, it was brilliant," says county School Board member Brian Wheeler of the decision to commission an efficiency study for county schools.

“It helped us so much in going through the budget process,” says Wheeler. Among the recommendations was a cut in the school’s central office expenditures for staffing that amounted to $400,000. (The School Board ended up with a $151 million budget for the 2008-2009 year, a 2.8 percent increase over the previous year.)

According to Wheeler, the immediate savings produced by the study will likely be overshadowed by its long-term benefits. For instance, the Institute recommended a more efficient routing of school buses and found that the school’s existing buildings have a capacity for up to 1,600 more students.

“A year from now, we will have a number that is lower than it is today,” he says of the budget.

The perceived success of the county schools with the study, which cost $100,000, has spurred the city schools to undertake a similar strategy. Earlier this month, they signed up with the Virginia Department of Planning and Budget for a top-to-bottom evaluation of how they use their resources, which will cost them less than it did the county. Charlottesville schools will likely only have to pay around $30,000. Under their arrangement, the state will pay three-fourths of the cost—as long as 50 percent of the state’s recommendations are implemented. The county schools had no such prescription with their study.

The trend is catching on at the larger locality level as well. On May 7, a beleaguered Board of Supervisors—in the face of lower than expected revenues and harsh citizen criticism—directed county staff to prepare a scope of work (due in early July) for a similar outside study of its $334 million budget.

“We’re always looking for ways to cut waste,” explains Supervisor Lindsay Dorrier. “Everything has to be conserved because these are tough times.” He likens the eventual study to “preventative maintenance for an automobile.” Four county departments are already undergoing an internal assessment under the Baldridge National Quality Program, another means of assessing efficiency.

With the rest of the area pursuing such studies, the city seems close behind. At its next meeting, City Council will decide whether to commission an efficiency study. “It’s good to see whether we are using resources fairly or not,” says Councilor Satyendra Huja. “Are we getting our money’s worth?”

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