School Money Matters: A Handbook for Principals
reviewed by Richard Sorenson - 2005
Title: School Money Matters: A Handbook for Principals
Author(s): Davida W. Mutter and Pam J. Parker
Publisher: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, Alexandria, VA
ISBN: 087120813X, Pages: 160, Year: 2004
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School administrators sometimes have difficulty facing the possibility of employee theft because it is so foreign to the mission of schools and to the generally positive atmosphere characteristic of learning environments. Schooling is big business, however, and theft by school employees at all levels is on the rise (Walsh-Sarnecki, Schaeffer, and Ross, 2000).
Sound familiar? Certainly, if you are a school administrator! School funds do matter and such a statement is most meaningful to the campus principal who has spent any amount of time working with campus dollars and managing those individuals who handle the constant flow of school money. Unfortunately, most school administrators will seldom in their career avoid the reality of a school’s vulnerability to certain fiscal considerations, most notably, employee theft. Fortunately, numerous accounting safeguards, along with other school money issues, complexities and principles, are examined in School Money Matters: A Handbook for Principals written by Davida Mutter and Pam Parker. This “easy-to-read” text which conveniently resembles a “handbook” is an excellent resource for aspiring, novice, and seasoned school administrators who desire to learn more about successfully managing a school’s activity fund along with other financial factors in an era of major state and district fiscal and budgetary accountability. The authors of School Money Matters equip the new, would-be, and practicing principal with a desk reference manual related to effective fiscal management of the school activity account that includes short, single-topic-focused chapters, wide margins for note-taking, related “tips” for clarifying complex accounting concepts, chapter summaries, and a reference and resources section. The book appendices include a financially sound checklist for principals, important financial forms for any school office, and a comprehensive glossary of school accounting terms. One additional and most interesting aspect of the book is a featured CD-ROM and guide. This powerful tool provides, in a user-friendly template format, a series of important financial forms created to better fulfill the stewardship responsibility that all practitioners must assume insofar as public funds at the school level are concerned. Swanson and King (1997), noted authorities on school finance, would appreciate this useful inclusion as they relate that technologically sophisticated schools gain in credibility and effectiveness in terms of proper accounting practices and student services.
According to Mutter and Parker, both of whom have served in public schools as teachers, administrators, and financial officers, “today’s school leaders are typically selected for their accomplishments and potential for improving student achievement” (p. vii). So true, yet the authors are careful to remind their readers that in the course of emphasizing the need for increased student achievement, practitioners must also be responsible for directing and managing their school’s finances. Most principals would readily agree that one (achievement) cannot effectively occur without the other (funding). Notably, Mutter and Parker have incorporated into their text the stewardship responsibility stipulated in Standard 3 of the Standards for School Leaders which acknowledges that “the administrator has knowledge and understanding of principles and issues relating to fiscal operations of school management” (Council of Chief State School Officers, 1996, p. 14).
The authors make no apology about the fact that their text is primarily focused on basic school bookkeeping, bank reconciliation, petty cash procedures, school store operations and inventory accounting, vending services, and the necessity of internal and external audits. This book, unabashedly, is all about the school activity fund. While the author’s do provide homage, in a single chapter, to the school budget, understand that this book is not about school-based budgeting. The authors never claim or have their readers perceive (other than a potentially misleading title) that their writings are anything less than a fiscal focus centered on the campus activity fund and accounting process. For those school administrators seeking a text that is similar in length, readability, and practitioner-focus and related to the school-based budgetary process, they might consider other sources such as A Primer on School Budgeting (Krats, Scott, and Zechman, 1998) or The Principal’s Companion to School Budgeting (Sorenson and Goldsmith, 2005).
Considering the beginning chapter (Activity Fund Safeguards) and a concluding chapter (Surviving an Audit) as corner-posts to a series of valuable financial management practices, the readers of School Money Matters are able to transcend from the theoretical aspects of school finance and accounting to the numerous practicalities offered within the book that provide for realistic administrative implementation and application procedures when it comes to managing school dollars. Mutter and Parker examine the complexities of activity funds and accounting by providing their readers with clear, precise, and practical examples of how school principals must effectively manage a campus budget without being consumed by accounting minutiae. For example, the skills and principles the authors offer as related to parent organizations in Chapter 12 are most meaningful. While Mutter and Parker are quick to relate that “the school principal’s role in the financial matters of a parent organization is advisory only” (p. 68), the authors also aptly reveal that the effective principal will “provide appropriate guidance to parent groups and help prevent the money problems that sometimes arise and cause embarrassment for the school community” (p. 68). Additionally, the authors provide numerous fiscally-sound tips and general advice in terms of fund-raising procedures, auditing of parent organizations, specific financial warning signs, and most important, the role of the school principal when theft is suspected. Each chapter provides a series of meaningful tidbits that any and all school leaders need to know and utilize.
Mutter and Parker stipulate in Chapter 15, “The School Budget,” that the effective school administrator needs to prepare budget projections for school activity accounts by developing a spending plan for the school year, and then revisit said plan on a regular basis to make any necessary amendments or adjustments. Such projection procedures are fittingly documented within this chapter which closes with a statement of advice that even the most tenured school administrator would appreciate regarding the annual school budget: “Finally, always remember that the money in your school is there to benefit teaching and learning; spend it wisely, but do spend it” (p. 91).
Throughout Money Matters: A Handbook for Principals the authors write, outline, and propose sound information that should serve as a financial guide for the school principal. School administrators are saddled with many responsibilities, including those in the area of campus bookkeeping. As a result, this handbook conveniently provides what is needed most by campus leaders: clear, practical, and relevant sources of information related to accounting principles, procedures, and practices that exemplify appropriate bookkeeping and operational integrity in the area of school activity funds.
One cannot simply read Davida Mutter’s and Pam Parker’s School Money Matters: A Handbook for Principals. This unique publication must be carefully examined for the fiscal management procedures described within and the practical accounting principles offered. Then, the new, aspiring, or practicing school administrator can effectively adapt and adopt the school activity fund accounting processes and safeguards, as detailed by the authors, for the purpose of focusing “attention on what really matters most: student learning” (p. viii).
Sorenson, R.D. and Goldsmith, L.M. (2005). The principal’s companion to school budgeting.
Swanson, A.D. and King, R.A. (1997). School finance: Its economics and politics.
Walsh-Sarnecki, P., Schaeffer, J., and Ross, J. (2000, November 21).