Some exciting reading -- maybe

Let's face it, the subject matter in "The School Budget: It's your money; It's your business," by Rhoda E. Dersh and published by the National Committee for Citizens in Education (Suite 410, Wilde Lake Village Green, Columbia, Md. 21044, $4.95 paperback) is not the stuff of Pulitzers. School budgets might make exciting reading for certified public accountants, but they get paid to read them.

Then why should anyone else want to read about them? For a number of good reasons.

When you go to buy a newly built house or one already standing, do you inspect the foundation, go down into the cellar and look for damp spots? Neither the cellar nor the foundation may be easily visible, or accessible, but failure to determine their status is done at the buyer's peril. The house doesn't stand without them.

Any taxpayer buys the services the local public school provides. So not understanding the school budget, the financial statement that delineates the extent of what will and will not be done in a school system, is like buying a house without checking the foundation (Or the property taxes).

An understanding of public education must include some degree of familiarity with the local school budget. "School Budget," provides this in lay terms without oversimplifying the complexity of the financial statement or the importance of the budget process. Indeed, the critical relationship between the budgetmaking process and quality programs in a given school district is one of the most useful insights the book establishes.

"School Budget" is a "how to" book with line-item explanations and numerous duplications of actual school budget documents (all part of the public domain and available upon request in any public school district). The myriad differences between the 50 state educational systems and the differing ways each requires school districts to report their finances also warrants a look at "School Budget."

The author's conversational style encourages the reader to become an active participant in the budgetary process. And as the reader is forewarned, the first major discovery you will make about the budget is when you go to your school district to request a copy and find out how easy (or difficult) it is for you to obtain one, and then how intelligible the document is after you study it.

Specific questions that can be answered: How much does your district allocate per pupil for administrative purposes? Has an increase been budgeted for next year for the special education program your parent-citizen group convinced the school board to endorse as a top priority item? How can parents-citizens have some input into the budget process early enough so that they are not forced into the futile exercise of a last minute public hearing?

Must reading? Have you looked at the foundation of your house lately?

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