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Initial Steps in the School Budgeting Process: Tips from a Certified Public Auditor
on January 2 2024, 1:57 am

    “What is my change?” is the first question one New Jersey  certified public auditor, Frank DiMaria, encourages school business administrators to ask themselves when considering putting together a new annual budget. January is a natural time for the annual budgeting process to begin, and starting with this forethought is crucial. The following are DiMaria’s standby tips for reflecting on a previous fiscal year in preparation for the next:

    1. Be realistic not optimistic: properly give cost estimates

    “Did you use more paper this year than you anticipated and think to yourself, ‘I’ll never use that much paper again?’- think twice” DiMaria advises. Whatever the consumable item may be, DiMaria suggests reflecting on consumables from last year to decide how much to budget for the following year. Being realistic and relying on data is a safer way to proceed when planning a budget. Adding single-digit percentage increases to these line items help a district anticipate realistic costs. Properly giving cost estimates and shooting a little higher prevents a business administrator from costing their district more later. 

    1. Invest in predictability; seek long term contracts 

    Signing on the dotted line and locking a district into a long term contract may initially be an anxiety provoking responsibility for a business administrator. However, DiMaria endorses this plan of action as a public auditor. DiMaria suggests “annually keeping your line item increases under 5% across the board” and a good way to do this is to “lock in long term rates for as long as possible”. Investing in vendors you trust at current rates for as long as they will honor them is an opportunity not a subjugation. 

    1. Is this a “planing year” or an “action year” 

    DiMaria looks at January as an annual opportunity. Starting during  January of the current year and making a monthly list of “surprise” costs or services that “…are the things we do on an annual basis that come January we act like we are doing for the first time” is the first step for a “planning year”. Then, the following January or the “action year”, you can start to account for these in long term budget planning when deciding which vendors to invest in. Need to take action immediately? Make a list by month of events that occurred last year to see where progress needs to be made for 2024-2025. 

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