Afton leads an Illinois school district through its multi-year financial planning process, quantifying the fiscal impact of district-wide priorities and initiatives derived from the District’s strategic planning process.
In a small suburban school district outside of Chicago, North Chicago Community Unit School District 187 serves over 3,500 students, 89% of whom are low income, 29% of whom are English Language Learners, and 16% of whom have IEPs (see ISBE district report card here). The District has undergone a transformation since 2012 when the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) intervened in the District and replaced the elected school board with an Independent Authority and with a Financial Oversight Panel. Afton was engaged by the District from 2012-2014 school year to provide financial alternatives to be considered alongside academic improvement plans. This work included identification of the causes of the District’s structural deficit and recommendations for cost reductions and operational changes that would alleviate the structural deficit and result in the least instructional impact. While financial health and academic success has begun to improve, the District suffers from extreme funding inadequacy – in 2018, the District was funded at only 54% of its funding adequacy target.
In Spring 2018, the District completed a strategic planning process, driven by the following five-year District goals:
- Focus on Early Intervention and Early Success: We will increase the percentage of students reaching grade level standards by the end of third grade in both reading and mathematics.
- Academic Growth for All Students: We will make sure that all students are making growth every year in school with the goal of each student making six years of growth over the five years of this plan.
- Graduation Rate: We will increase our graduation rate to 80%.
- Post-Secondary Preparation: Each graduate will have an individualized plan for college and/or career aligned to their interests.
In planning a path toward achieving academic goals like these, districts must ask, “How do we prioritize the district’s work in alignment with our strategic plan while recognizing capacity and resource constraints?” Afton worked alongside District leadership to quantify the fiscal impact of district-wide priorities and initiatives derived from the District’s strategic planning process, ultimately to help prioritize initiatives, since all could not be afforded within the insufficient funding environment.
Afton developed a dynamic, site-based, multi-year forecast model that allowed for scenario planning at the school, position, and resource line item level. The model incorporated a detailed list of resources required and mapped to components of the District’s strategic plan.
Communicate and advocate for equity in unjust funding environments. The District’s strategic planning process demonstrated that there are answers to improving student outcomes. And it showed that state and local funding allocated to the District is not nearly sufficient to support those identified initiatives. This is particularly troublesome considering that the District is serving some of the higher needs students in the State. This process enabled the District to articulate what it can achieve in the funding environment and what it would do should the funding become more equitable in the future.
Be realistic about your funding environment and understand the impact of different funding scenarios. In uncertain times and in unjust funding structures, scenario planning is really important as Districts determine how to prioritize limited resources. In addition to including flexible assumptions on per pupil funding amounts, Afton used the financial projection model to run scenarios that quantified the impact of less than ideal funding situations. Under different funding scenarios, the District’s use of resources and pathway toward achieving the goals laid out in it’s strategic plan might look different. The District used Afton’s model and guidance to estimate funding available (after fixed obligations and normal operations) for their initiatives and to communicate a plan of action for different funding environments.
Start with your base case, then quantify the individual components of your strategic plan options to better understand trade-off decisions. In order to improve student success and achieve the goals of the strategic plan, the District had identified many pathways to success, including but not limited to the following options: extended day & year; summer school expansion; family engagement initiatives; personalized learning initiatives; a freshman academy; universal Pre-K; addressing deferred maintenance; recruiting initiatives; new central office positions for: operations manager, pathway coordinator, and grants manager; school-level positions for: social workers, psychologists, instructional coaches, assistant principals, and master teachers. Afton worked with North Chicago leadership to estimate annual costs (and in some cases incremental revenues) of each and every one of the considered investments. Once Afton finalized the mechanics and assumptions of the base-case/steady state five-year financial projection model, they then incorporated these incremental investments into the model, with the ability to include/exclude individual initiatives for various scenarios. With the ability to understand the cost implications of both steady-state operations and individual strategic plan components on a site-level basis, the District was equipped with a tool to inform the trade-off decisions they were facing.