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Accountability And Micromanagement: Decentralized Budgeting In Massachusetts School Districts

Author: DOUGLAS SNOW and AIMEE WILLIAMSON
Published in PAQ, Vol. 39 No. 2

The tension between micromanagement and decentralization of decision making is a long-standing theme in the public and education administration literatures. Decentralized budgeting has become a system-changing political strategy to reform education by giving school principals and stakeholders more responsibility and flexibility for allocating resources to activities most likely to improve education outcomes. This study uses survey and archival data to identify and explain patterns of decentralized budgeting in Massachusetts school districts. Factor analysis confirms a political pattern of decentralization where school principals and school level stakeholders gain more influence over budget decisions when they have the ability to originate budget requests and control the disposition of budgeted funds. Political decentralization is accompanied by greater involvement in school level budget decisions by elected school officials. Political decentralization is more likely to be found in smaller, rural, and fiscally stressed districts where federal and state testing mandates have become salient in budget decisions. Factor analysis also confirms a bureaucratic pattern of decentralization where control over transfers among budget accounts is delegated to school superintendents and business officials and, to a much lesser extent, school principals. Wealthier, municipal school districts are more likely to conform to the bureaucratic decentralization pattern. With more financial resources, these districts are more likely to have stronger internal controls and adequate central office staff. Consistent with theory, school districts’ budget environments, controlling for other organizational characteristics, shape patterns of decentralized budgeting.

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