A Failure to Abide by Hanley’s Second Law

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Kazzy

One man. Two boys. Twelve kids.

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  1. Avatar Mike Schilling
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    says:

    This is like how computer time was allocated back when I was in college: if you didn’t use your whole budget, it got cut. So towards the end of his quarter, the mainframe was fully loaded running everyone’s

    10 GO TO 10

    jobs.Report

    • Avatar Michael Cain in reply to Mike Schilling
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      says:

      My undergrad school loaded student accounts according to some magic formula so that it was supposed to be impossible to realistically finish the programming assignments without having to request additional funds. I graduated with a certain amount of notoriety because I went through my senior year within the allocated amounts. Let us just say that there were multiple ways to convince the mainframe’s batch job scheduler to run a program without properly charging any student or faculty accounts for the resources used.Report

  2. Avatar Mark Thompson
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    says:

    This is an underappreciated problem, actually. I’ve had no shortage of conversations with teachers and/or low level government officials in which they discuss their need to spend on all sorts of frivolous items that they don’t need at the end of the fiscal year in order to preserve their budget for the following year. To say that this is an extremely wasteful way of setting budgets is an understatement.Report

    • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Mark Thompson
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      says:

      I was going to comment that this just seems like the well-known problem you describe, which I would describe as Lesson 1 in Bureaucratic Budget-Utilization (I’m not sure I can agree it’s under-appreciated, though perhaps it is by people who have never worked in a bureaucratic environment). But I laid off because the basic lesson – use what’s allocated to you, or you won;t have it allocated to you again next year even though then you may need it all – didn’t apply to Kazzy’s truly impossible situation. He was never given a (maximum) budget; hence there’s no way he could have been sure to use it all. He was simply informed that his previous year’s spending was his new maximum. As he points out (and rightly labels a violation of Hanley’s Second Law), what is he now forever incentivized to do? Max out his allocation, of course.

      As much as this dynamic is obviously problematic, I’m not sure it’s clear what the alternatives are (hence the problem’s persistence). What would be better, guaranteeing constant (or certain-variable-linked) allocations that are independent of actual outlays? (Perhaps some would say yes.) I’d be interested in readers’ accounts of bureaucratic attempts to grapple with this problem they have observed in their workplaces or other organizations.Report

      • Avatar J@m3z Aitch in reply to Michael Drew
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        says:

        In support of Michael’s point. This is actually a well known issue (although I don’t know the literature well enough to say anything helpful), and alternative approaches, as I vaguely understand, have their own problems. I think it probably comes down to a knowledge/measurement problem–how can higher-ups really know just what resources various divisions below them really need?*

        Which is not to downplay what Kazzy’s stumbled into. It’s a classic problem, for exactly the reason he points out.
        __________
        *This is one of those areas it’s easy to point out bosses’ stupidity and question why they get paid more when they do such stupid things with our budgets. But in part they may just be in more noticeable positions, so that even if they make fewer stupid decisions than others theirs are more obvious; and it may also be that good managers are those who make marginally fewer stupid (or apparently stupid, or less costly stupid) decisions than most others would when put in that position.Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Michael Drew
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        says:

        In support of James’ point about the visibility of managers. It could also be seen as bad management at the program-manager level to employ thriftiness that your boss didn’t ask you to employ. It’s your boss’ program as much as yours; your job is to implement it. If the boss says that X dollars should be spent on program P during period T, then if you find yourself flitting around at the end of the period spending the dollars frivolously, you may have managed the resources you were entrusted with poorly, underspending on the core parts of the program out of a misguided impulse to be careful with Organization monies (which is both laudable and contrary to your job at the same time). …Or! Your boss might have really made a ridiculous allocation decision that no program executor could ever smoothy expend. Both are possible.

        What’s certain is that *Kazzy’s* situation, which is not like that, is im<possible.Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Michael Drew
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        says:

        This happened a few years ago:

        The company I was working for got acquired. The new owners shut down our office, because they already had lots of unused space. The new boss moved us about 30 miles away, to a location that was cheaper per square foot than anything closer, but extremely inconvenient for some of us. (It would have been 90 minutes each way for me.) After people (including me) started to leave, his boss asked why, decided that saving money on rent while losing people was a false economy, and gave people the option of working in a space that was much closer to the old office.

        I’ll go out on a limb and say that arranging the initial move without trying to gauge the likely result or explore alternatives was not bright.Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to Michael Drew
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        says:

        Mike,
        true. a cleverer organization would have moved you in order to get rid of you, then hired other people for cheaper or shut down the entire branch (some companies hire the competition, then kill it).Report

      • Avatar J@m3z Aitch in reply to Michael Drew
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        says:

        Mike,

        Anecdotes; there’s always an anecdote. But if it’s so evident to you how bad managers are, why haven’t you sought out those positions? You’d obviously be much better, and you’d make more money.

        Of course what I see in your anecdotes is always 20-20 hindsight, which is easy enough. To be a good manager, you’d have to demonstrate that you have better foresight. Reciting anecdotes of that-time-that-manager-made-a-decision-that-worked-out-badly doesn’t demonstrate that.

        Look, I’m not saying managers always get it right. I’ve never even hinted at that. Hell, I’ve explicitly said that a good manager might be the person who fishes up a lot less than everyone else would. If Joe is elevated to CEO and the company loses $10 million, we ask, “how come he got paid $5 million?” But if the other candidates for the position would have lost the company $20 million, then it turns out Joe is worth $5 million. But more than that, I agree some managers suck. And some of those who suck get rewarded a lot more than they deserve.

        But an anecdote about a bad decision doesn’t mean a manager sucked–s/he might have, or s/he might have made a rare bad decision in a career of mostly good ones. And an anecdote certainly doesn’t demonstrate that taking the whole set of decisions that manager has to make, that another person would have done a better job overall.

        And most of all, an anecdote–nor a series of them–doesn’t demonstrate that the person complaining is likely to have done any better. It’s like bitching that Brett Favre threw an interception. He sure did–set the record for career interceptions, in fact, and ended his career on an interception. But would the Pack have done better to dumped him earlier and taken some other available QB? And could any of us who mock or complain about his interceptions have done better?

        What bugs me about your repeated managerial mistake anecdotes is that you seem to assume that it’s easier to do better. That’s a serious lack of perspective.Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Michael Drew
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        says:

        I’ve managed people in the past, and generally found that talking to them worked out better than not talking to them. But I’m not rich, so what the hell do I know?Report

      • Avatar J@m3z Aitch in reply to Michael Drew
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        says:

        The mystery, Mike, is why someone with such superlative management skills as your own has not moved up in management, but ends up sitting on the sidelines while whole armies of folks with obviously inferior skills move up the ranks.

        I lack sympathy for your claims. I have never worked anywhere where I didn’t have co-workers who were persuaded of the superiority of their judgement over managements, but who never managed to impress anyone enough to be promoted. I worked in a building supply store with department managers who barely kept their own departments running, yet were persuaded they had a better understanding of what the company’s overall strategy should be than the owners who had build it from a small family hardware store to a powerful local competitor to Home Depot. I currently work with faculty colleagues whose management of their own departments is laughably inept, yet think they’d do a better job of running the college than our president (not that he’s left no room for criticism, but that’s not really the issue).

        Are you one of those irritating malcontents who is forever picking fault with management, fails to recognize any good decisions they make, and studiously avoids seeking out the opportunity to be the person with responsibility for making those decisions? There’s nothing easier than being that person, is there?Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Michael Drew
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        says:

        Did you miss the fact that, in the anecdote I just related, I was applauding the higher-level manager for being smart and doing the right thing? Which consisted of taking a wider view than “How do we minimize this one expense?”Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Michael Drew
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        says:

        @jm3z-aitch

        I think about this often as I reach a point in my career where I am debating going into admin. I think a weakness that many managers have is failing to communicate their role to their underlings. If I get a $100 PO denied, I can easily walk away thinking, “I have 18 students paying $15K per and they only pay me $60K. They’re pulling in almost 5 times that and can’t give me another $100 for gluesticks?!?!” But if my manager has taken the time to make clear to me that finances don’t work quite that simply and that he also has to consider a myriad of other factors before making a decision, suddenly his denial might not seem so egregious. I might not like it, but at least I can understand why he made it.

        Too often it seems that managers either assume we under their role OR figure it is no place of ours to do so and we should just accept their decisions. I think both are real problems. I recognize not everything can be shared every time. But if I know the manager’s role well enough that I can assume positive intent on behalf of his decisions, it goes along way towards him being successful.

        I think this is why it is so easy to gripe about managers. “Well, why didn’t he consider this?” Maybe he did consider that. But we don’t know. And if we don’t trust him, we won’t give him that benefit of the doubt. I think transparency of process goes a long way towards good management.

        I know management is harder than it looks. I respect and appreciate those who take on such work. But I also am a firm believer in the idea that people tend to rise to their level of incompetency. Which itself is a failure of leadership.Report

      • Avatar J@m3z Aitch in reply to Michael Drew
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        says:

        Did you miss the fact that, in the anecdote I just related, I was applauding the higher-level manager for being smart and doing the right thing? Which consisted of taking a wider view than “How do we minimize this one expense?”

        Ah, yes, the classic, “out of all the X negative statements I have 1 positive statement, so therefore I’m being objective” argument.

        It works best with the “I’m not a racist; I have a Mexican gardener and he’s a good guy” crowd.

        Or if you don’t like that snarky approach, let me just say that you’re the math guy, so look at your own anecdotes and do the math.Report

      • Avatar J@m3z Aitch in reply to Michael Drew
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        says:

        Kazzy,

        There’s no doubt that many managers don’t communicate well. I chalk that up primarily to the fact that most people don’t communicate well. For things that seem obvious to us it can be hard to remember that they’re not obvious to others.

        But there’s another problem at play, too. Just as in the absence of transparency you might be saying, ” “I have 18 students paying $15K per and they … can’t give me another $100 for gluesticks?!?!” when there is full transparency you (or if not you, someone else) will be saying, “I can’t get $100 for glue sticks, but Jane’s 4th grade class got $150 for markers?!?!” Since management can’t keep people from bitching about that, it becomes a lot easier to keep things vague. It’s a whole hell of a lot easier to say “you don’t understand the whole budget” than “here’s why the 4th grade’s markets got funded and your pre-K’s gluesticks didn’t.”

        I’m not saying that’s better management. I’m saying it’s a natural temptation. And to the extent it’s bad management, well, the temptation is actually caused by employees who are going to bitch no matter what.

        (Here’s my own anecdote. I worked at a pool supply company in their catalog order department. Two of the three summers I worked there the management tried to create an incentive program for us, and both times it worked out the same way. Step 1: Give each person a percentage of the bonus–if collectively we reach our sales goal–based on that person’s own sales. Step 2: People bitch and moan because others are selling more, and claims that they’re doing so by taking more calls, which they do by rushing through them and not giving as good of customer service. Step 3: Change program so we all get an equal share of the bonus if collectively we reach the goal. Step 4: People bitch and moan because they’re selling more than others but aren’t going to get rewarded more. Step 5: Program is cancelled early. Step 6: People bitch and moan because the program is cancelled early. Throughout, there are complaints about the stupid decisions of management. In the third summer I worked there, management didn’t offer an incentive program, and people bitched about that decision, too.

        Sometimes bad management is just struggling to deal with the incredible pains-in-the-asses that we humans are.

        I’m not saying that’s the case in your situation, Kazzy. It seems to me like they’ve correctly realized they need to manage their budget better, and now they’re muddling their way through to getting it right, but they haven’t gotten the process right yet and probably haven’t given much thought to the difficulties they create for their employees. I’m just saying that there may be no way for them to proceed without stimulating pushback from one or another group of employees.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Michael Drew
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        says:

        “Start with management and just morph out from there.”Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Michael Drew
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        says:

        All that to say “what the hell? Complaining about bad managers is like racism now? I didn’t vote for this. When did we vote for this? I would like to argue that we ought to have a revote on that.”Report

      • Avatar J@m3z Aitch in reply to Michael Drew
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        says:

        @kazzy
        I also am a firm believer in the idea that people tend to rise to their level of incompetency. Which itself is a failure of leadership.

        Well, since the leadership is probably also composed of people who’ve risen to their level of incompetency, the continuing replication of this failure is to be expected, right? 😉

        And not to single you out, or imply that you are necessarily doing this, but I’ve noticed that most people tend to apply the Peter Principle to others. But if it’s real (and there’s good reason to think so), we all have to accept the likelihood that it is applicable to us as well; and for any of us who haven’t been promoted in some time, well, we’re probably already beyond our level of competence.Report

      • Avatar J@m3z Aitch in reply to Michael Drew
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        says:

        Jaybird,

        No, complaining about management is not like racism. That’s not what I said. Just that Schilling’s “I’ve got one positive anecdote about management out of all the negative ones” is logically similar to “I like that one minority person,” and so is of roughly equal persuasiveness.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Michael Drew
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        says:

        Eh, I’ve met enough management types to say that the pointy-haired boss is based on some real personality traits that seem to gravitate to management positions like bad analogies.

        There’s a lot of self-sorting that results in Admins being Admins, Programmers being Programmers, and Managers being Managers.

        If *ONLY* the Peter Principle was behind it all. Good lord, we’d be better off.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Michael Drew
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        says:

        Academia might be completely different from IT, of course. In Academia, the cream could very well be what floats to the top.Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Michael Drew
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        says:

        All six of these just-fired NFL coaches know far more about football than any of us ever will, so I don’t want to hear one word of criticism about them.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Michael Drew
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        says:

        “Mike Shanahan: Now can we ask you if you think they should change the name?”Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to Michael Drew
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        says:

        Jaybird,
        And the best managers are trolls.Report

      • Avatar J@m3z Aitch in reply to Michael Drew
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        says:

        Jaybird,

        I agree with the self-sorting. And I think it’s possible that it has more to do with bad management than the Peter Principle. (It’s an empirical question; I wonder if anyone’s figured out how to test it?)

        And, no, academia’s not one whit different. Some of us have little to no interest in being administrators, while others crave it like crack.

        But putting on my professional hat for a moment, as a student of institutions, there’s an odd problem in that neither managers nor the managed have a good understanding of the others’ position. Managers generally have a broader view of the organization’s goals, needs, and constraints than lower-level employees do. The lower level employees, by virtue of their institutional position, cannot see the things the managers do, and to the extent they get a view of those things, their own institutional position tends to bias their interpretation of it toward their own (departmental/divisional) needs. That repeats itself up the chain, as the floor worker can’t see what the supervisor sees, and the supervisor can’t see what the departmental manager sees, and the departmental manager can’t see what the divisional manager sees, who can’t see what the corporate office sees.

        But at the same time, the breadth of view that management gets obscures their view of the details that lower level folks see. The lower level folks tend to take this as evidence that management is blind, while management tends to wave their hands at those mere details and consider them irrelevant, wondering why the lower level people obsess over them instead of focusing on the big picture. That tendency is only ever temporarily overcome, when someone is first promoted, and still has clear memory of those departmental details. But the memory fades and/or is overwhelmed by the new information they are, for the first time, seeing.

        Both are visually constrained by their institutional position, which allows them to see only certain things and gives emphasis–heightened importance–to the particular things they see. And both tend to recognize only the other as constrained, rarely recognizing their own constraints.

        And, taking off the professional hat to give my personal, unstudied assessment, that’s what is the cause of 90% of the bitching. Which is why I find most of the bitching, from either side, exceptionally irritating–it’s mostly based on ignorance about the other’s position, about their demands, constraints, and what they are able to see.

        And, sure, mistakes are made. Anyone here who hasn’t made a mistake in your job, please raise your hand. (Once we’ve weeded out the clinically narcissistic, only my hand remains up.) And, yes, your bosses probably overemphasize some mistake of yours and think it reflects more poorly on your level of competence than you do. But you–the general you, meaning each of us–aren’t likely to ever take that into consideration when evaluating your own boss, and will do the same with them. And will feel as fully justified in doing so as do they. But that doesn’t make you (each of us) any more right about them then they are about you (each of us).Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to Michael Drew
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        says:

        The best manager works every job on the floor.
        He may have a bit broader view of the finances,
        but he ought to at least be able to be the substitute for anyone working for him.

        That’s retail. Nothing terribly specialized going on.
        It’s worse when you get catlike folks (academics, programmers, doctors)…Report

      • Avatar J@m3z Aitch in reply to Michael Drew
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        says:

        @mike-schilling
        All six of these just-fired NFL coaches know far more about football than any of us ever will, so I don’t want to hear one word of criticism about them.

        Or we could recognize that for us to criticize them is to just engage in chatter, self-gratification. Much like most criticism of bosses (and most criticism of employees). Sure, it’s fun, but grownups recognize it for what it is, and don’t actually think they’re being (re)productive.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Michael Drew
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        says:

        Jason Garrett ought to lose his job for calling a rollout passing play on fourth and 1 at midfield last night. Everyone knows you run it in that situation. Especially when the play fails as abysmally as that one did.Report

      • Avatar Burt Likko in reply to Michael Drew
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        says:

        @mike-schilling while you might not brook any criticism of any of the coaches, and while you’re right that they probably do know way more about football than me, I can tell you one thing: change their name or not, as of this, the Washington Redskins are a more competitive team than they were 24 hours ago.Report

      • Avatar J@m3z Aitch in reply to Michael Drew
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        says:

        Actually, let me retract that. Mike’s analogy misinterprets my criticism, and I erred in going that direction. Because I am certainly not saying that one can never criticize a manager or a particular manager’s decision, or a particular coach or a particular coach’s decision.

        I am saying that Mike’s comments about managers treat them as a class that almost never does anything right, which is about as thoughtful an analysis as treating coaches as a class that almost never does anything right.Report

      • Avatar J@m3z Aitch in reply to Michael Drew
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        says:

        Everyone knows you run it in that situation

        Including the defense.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Michael Drew
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        says:

        Doesn’t the type and manner of the criticism matter?

        It is one thing for Bill Barnwell to say, “A rollout pass in that situation succeeds 35% of the time and has a point-added value of .6 while an interior run in that situation succeeds 52% of the time and has a point-added value of 1.4.” And it is quite another for someone to offer that sort of analysis BEFORE the play begins.

        It is something wholly different to criticize every decision that fails. Sometimes the right decision fails.

        Sometimes 2-7 off suit beats pocket Aces. But I never want the guy in charge to play his 2-7 against AA. Even if he won last time.Report

      • Avatar Burt Likko in reply to Michael Drew
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        says:

        @kim I would agree with your statement were it about supervisors. Supervision and management are different things, aggravated by confusion in titles since nice-sounding titles are a no-cost form of compensation enhancement. Management involves a set of skills that does not always need to include an in-depth, hands-on understanding of how the jobs underneath the manager are done. Not that it hurts to have done the hands-on work in the past, but it isn’t always necessary. However, one of the skills involved in management is listening to the people actually doing the hands-on work, which is a skill that your typical B-school does not teach and a task which requires more humility than many people given the title of “manager” can summon up from within themselves.

        Now that I think about it, perhaps we’re really talking about the same thing.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Michael Drew
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        says:

        I wish I’da put a snark tag on that comment…Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Michael Drew
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        says:

        Great minds, @burt-likko …

        See my comment below on management vs leadership. Supervisor is another term with its own unique meaning. The language we use matters.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Michael Drew
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        says:

        Sorry, @stillwater . I hadn’t even seen your comment! I certainly would have read it with a snark tag. I was talking more generally about criticism of outcome and criticism of process. It is easy to criticize outcome. Especially if you don’t understand process.

        To bring everything full circle… I don’t criticize the intent to create classroom budgets or will reserve criticism of what my actual budget is until it is set. As of now, I am criticizing the process by which it seems budgets are being created.

        If they had come to me out of the blue and said, “Oh by the way, you have $1800/year to spend,” I wouldn’t even know how to think. I don’t track my own spending and couldn’t tell if you if that was a lot, a little, or just right.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Michael Drew
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        says:

        the Washington Redskins are a more competitive team than they were 24 hours ago.

        The only way the last four years could have worked out any better for Broncos fans is if Shanahan got re-hired within the division.Report

      • Avatar J@m3z Aitch in reply to Michael Drew
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        says:

        Stillwater,

        I wasn’t sure if it was snark, but I suspected so strongly enough to stop with that short comment and refrain from launching into a game theory lecture on mixed strategies. 😉Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Michael Drew
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        says:

        Actually, I’d’ve really liked that comment James. That stuff is fascinating. I have to admit, tho, that my brain can only hold so many levels of game-theoretic abstraction in a single moment of thought-space before it all just starts to sound like guessing, or a hunch, or “going with your gut”.Report

      • Avatar J@m3z Aitch in reply to Michael Drew
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        says:

        @stillwater

        I’m with you on the abstraction. I think our ability to do math on paper far outstrips our ability to do math in our heads in real time (for the vast majority of people), and formal analyses often assume information decision-makers don’t really have. And the “I know that running is best here, so the D knows that running is best here, so I should throw, but he knows I should throw, so I should run, but he knows that, so I….” can quickly get into an infinite regress. So in general when I talk about this stuff I just emphasize that you should mix your strategies up enough to be unpredictable. Don’t worry about trying to find the precise ratio of run to pass, because as a coach you probably can’t (and it would vary depending on the D you’re playing against); just avoid being very predictable. And while my cautious nature would incline me toward choosing high probability plays, regardless of whether they’re run or pass, I know I’d have to throw in a long bomb or a flea flicker or some such often enough that it’s in the D’s mind, hopefully making them hesitate a bit.

        And of course execution matters, so your mix of strategies may be shaped, too, by how good your QB is at faking a handoff before rolling out, or how good an option QB he is, or his accuracy on long passes.

        But better information can help. A few years back some stats guys did an analysis of 4th down plays, and figured out that coaches didn’t go for it often enough on 4th downs. IIRC, they did a pretty sophisticated study that suggested varying probability values of going for it based on yards needed and position on the field. I could be wrong–since I don’t follow these things that closely–but I think the frequency of going for it on 4th down has increased since that study became widely known, even if, as I suspect, few coaches memorized the precise probabilities and set up a random selection procedure for choosing their plays, as game theory would indicate.

        It’s a funny thing; a coach who says “my gut told me it was a good time to gamble” will probably get reamed less for a failed 4th down attempt than a coach who says “the data show we should go for it on 4th down 43% of the time with that field position and yardage to go, and my random number generator rolled a 45.”Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Michael Drew
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        says:

        James, I remember reading Belichick talk about a call he made in a game against Peyton Manning’s Colts where he decided to go for on fourth and like, 4 or something, at his own 23 (or something) and his rationale was a) they had a play they thought could get them four+ yards and b) giving the ball back to Manning wherever it was on the field didn’t matter because he’d come down and score anyway. That made some sense to me in the moment, a “gut” decision, but based on some real evidence.

        And then the “numbers” guys came out of the woodwork and showed that the maths proved him right. And before the math guys showed up, he was criticized pretty damn hard for that call.

        One problem I have with this type of thinking, as you mention, is the regress. And I don’t mean that at a philosophical level. I mean it in real practice. There’s something to be said for not running because you know that the other team thinks your the type of team who won’t run because they think that’s unpredictable. But really, that’s just being predictable, isn’t it? Better to determine your decision in that moment on the likelihood of success given the plays you’ve run that are effective + the plays you haven’t run that you’re good at.

        The other problem I have is epistemological. There’s just no way to know what other people are thinking except by inference from their past behavior. And really good coaches (this excludes Mike Shanahan) are unpredictable enough that guessing their future actions based on decision-making – rather than, say, matchups – is fruitless. SO we at best get something like third-order strategery.Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Michael Drew
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        says:

        In general, coaches/managers go with the conventional wisdom more often than is optimal, because there’s less criticism for doing that and failing than for doing something that appears odd and failing. I suspect that coaches also don’t go for two-point conversions often enough, say up by one point late in the game when that would result in a two-score lead, because missing it would look so dumb. (I don’t have numbers to back that up and might be entirely wrong that it’s a good gamble.)Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Michael Drew
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        says:

        Tho I want to add that I’ve read about poker players who describe their thought processes as “I did this because I knew he was thinking I’d do that as a response to him thinking I’d to this other thing which I’d only do if I really meant something else….etc”, and I have no reason to doubt that they had good evidence and justification for each step up the game-theory abstraction ladder.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Michael Drew
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        says:

        In general, coaches/managers go with the conventional wisdom more often than is optimal, because there’s less criticism for doing that and failing than for doing something that appears odd and failing.

        I tend to agree, but I think the data doesn’t support that view. I mean, it’s not like there are enough NFL coaches who go for at their own 33 yard line early in games to determine whether that point swing mattered at the end of the game.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Michael Drew
        Ignored
        says:

        Actually, what I wrote isn’t quite right. It’s that in order to determine whether going for early in a game from your own 33 correct, we’d need to determine the likely potential point swing (given limited data) and evaluate that evidence against the likelihood of maintaining/overcoming that point swing late in the game.

        In other words, I think it’d be complicated to the point of uninformative. Until we get more people doing it.

        But why would they?Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Michael Drew
        Ignored
        says:

        Sure, the sample size for something that bizarre is tiny. There are reasonably good sample sizes for going for it on 4th and 2 when you’re in field goal range, or letting a solid right-handed reliever pitch to a left-handed slugger instead of bringing in an inferior lefty.Report

      • Avatar Patrick in reply to Michael Drew
        Ignored
        says:

        The mystery, Mike, is why someone with such superlative management skills as your own has not moved up in management, but ends up sitting on the sidelines while whole armies of folks with obviously inferior skills move up the ranks.

        This is only a mystery if you accept that organizations are generally meritocracies, and they usually are not. Mystery solved.Report

  3. Avatar North
    Ignored
    says:

    Out of curiousity Kazzster what shows up on your new budget? Do they charge you room rent? Utility bills? Do you have a crayon allowance? Hampster medical insurance?Report

    • Avatar Jaybird in reply to North
      Ignored
      says:

      I was wondering if his room was measurably bigger. It wouldn’t surprise me if they charged him by the square foot.Report

    • Avatar NewDealer in reply to North
      Ignored
      says:

      How can a school charge rent for a room? Considering the figure, I doubt rent is a part of it.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to NewDealer
        Ignored
        says:

        Every single job I’ve had, the amount of floorspace that my team uses has been charged to our budget. I’ve complained about this to my friend in accounting and he tells me that I should lighten up because he not only has to take up his cubicle, he needs a huge amount of floorspace for his 20ish file cabinets.Report

      • Avatar Burt Likko in reply to NewDealer
        Ignored
        says:

        I’ve often wondered how it can be the case that the County of Los Angeles can charge the Los Angeles County District Attorney rent for the offices the D.A. keeps in the courthouse. It’s all the County!

        But it does — and the rent is all paid by way of county money moving between accounts. When the rent goes up in the courthouse, the rent budget for the D.A. goes up, too. I presume that similar arrangements exist for the P.D. and the A.P.D. and whatever other agencies keep offices in the courthouses.

        Lesson learned: square feet have value and that value gets accounted for somehow and it’s likely that a dozen or more people spend appreciable amounts of time thinking about this. Tune in next week for the next installments of Bureaucratic Infighting 101: “How Did You THINK The Carpet Got Vacuumed?” and “Sorry, The County Doesn’t Pay For Coffee.”Report

      • Avatar J@m3z Aitch in reply to NewDealer
        Ignored
        says:

        Lesson learned: square feet have value and that value gets accounted for somehow

        You know those spacious wood-panneled faculty offices you see in movies about college? It’s all Hollywood special effects.Report

      • Avatar James K in reply to NewDealer
        Ignored
        says:

        @burt-likko

        The technical term for those sort of arrangements (at least in the circles I work in) is a “money-go-round”, they’re pretty common in government budgets so as to try and give lower-level decision-makers the right incentives. For example, the New Zealand Treasury charges government departments if they ask for a capital appropriation. In order to get the capital they want, they have to appropriate a sum of money for the sole purpose of handing it right back to the Treasury. They do this so as to try and reduce the amount of capital government departments ask for.Report

    • Avatar Kazzy in reply to North
      Ignored
      says:

      @north

      Generally speaking, our budgets are solely for classroom supplies and materials (e.g., books, crayons, blocks, etc.). These will vary classroom to classroom and grade to grade and, in most schools, are factored into tuition. PreK tends to cost less than elementary, which tends to cost less than middle school, etc. Other things factor in as well, including supply/demand issues and other costs (e.g., schools tend to pay teachers of older students more than teachers of young students, rightly or wrongly).

      I don’t know that I’ve ever seen or heard of a school that factors in overhead into individual classroom or program budgets. I suppose if you were pursuing a new gym space or performing arts center, they might look to put that into the athletics or arts budget, but you’re probably running a capital campaign for that anyway and, theoretically, it benefits the entire school.Report

    • Avatar ScarletNumbers in reply to North
      Ignored
      says:

      Hamster” has no “p”. #pedantReport

  4. Avatar Mad Rocket Scientist
    Ignored
    says:

    What is so hard about asking people to draw up a budget, approve said budget, and allow for justifiable over-expenditures? Then reward people (somehow) when they get the job done well without going over budget?Report

    • Avatar Troublesome Frog in reply to Mad Rocket Scientist
      Ignored
      says:

      That sounds a lot like how all of the organizations I’ve ever worked in have operated. Treating a department’s budget as a single opaque number that is “right” only if it’s the same as last year’s completely opaque single number is a behavior I’ve only seen in schools. If your job is to approve budgets, it seems like reading and evaluating the merits of those budgets would be on the list of tasks you can’t really get away with skipping.Report

  5. Avatar Tod Kelly
    Ignored
    says:

    I know in advance I’m going to be the only at OT with any sympathy to your administrators.

    If this is the first year that they have attempted individual classroom budgets and you’re already hugging up close to 15% over what you spent all of last year at the halfway mark, I actually think it’s very appropriate for an administrator to demand to know why, and even demand that you cut down on expenses on a go forward basis (depending on revenue and other expenses). In fact, I think it’s more than appropriate — I kind of think it’s their job.Report

    • Avatar Burt Likko in reply to Tod Kelly
      Ignored
      says:

      Demanding an explanation for why this year’s budget significantly exceeds last year’s budget is obviously appropriate. So too, in a lot of circumstance, would be pushback against budget claimants asking for more resources than are allocatable.

      Cutting next year’s budget below reasonably-anticipated needs, for no reason other than that this year’s spending came in lower than projected, is failing to put in sufficient thought to transform the process from the administrative task of “bookkeeping” to the managerial task of “budgeting.”Report

      • Avatar Tod Kelly in reply to Burt Likko
        Ignored
        says:

        @burt-likko “Cutting next year’s budget below reasonably-anticipated needs, for no reason other than that this year’s spending came in lower than projected, is failing to put in sufficient thought to transform the process from the administrative task of “bookkeeping” to the managerial task of “budgeting.””

        I would agree with this, but I don’t see Kazzy saying this is the case. (Which isn’t to say that it isn’t the case; just that if it is Kazzy didn’t mention it.)Report

      • Avatar Burt Likko in reply to Burt Likko
        Ignored
        says:

        @tod-kelly for situations like the ones Kazzy describes in the OP, do you like the device of incentivizing future savings by giving the person who conserves a portion of the budget a fraction of those savings? E.g., Kazzy is budgeted $1,800, but only spends $1,600, so he gets a bonus of 25% of the $200 thus saved — maybe a $50 gift card at Target, as a way of saying “thanks for saving us some dough.”Report

      • Avatar J@m3z Aitch in reply to Burt Likko
        Ignored
        says:

        maybe a $50 gift card at Target,

        As long as it’s not for Wal Mart!Report

      • Avatar Tod Kelly in reply to Burt Likko
        Ignored
        says:

        @burt-likko Perhaps surprisingly, I don’t, because I think that can reward people NOT spending on things that should be.

        My preferred system may (or may not) be the one that Kazzy’s school is clumsily trying out now: to give each class/department/etc. a specific budget, and to have them be fully in charge of how that money is spent. (Though if this IS was Kaz’s school is doing, their initial roll out is clumsy indeed.)

        I like giving those with the their feet on the ground, so to speak, the autonomy to do what works best for their situation. (I can’t imagine a public school ever doing this, which is one reason why I am sympathetic to the idea of charter schools.)Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Burt Likko
        Ignored
        says:

        That can lead to perverse incentives, with productive spending not happening to increase the size of the bonus. (I’d say “I’ve seen it happen”, which I have, but that would be, God forbid, an anecdote.)Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Burt Likko
        Ignored
        says:

        If it were me, I would look at a 3- or 5-year-rolling average. As I note below, some expenses are annual and some are not. Some years, you need new textbooks and others you don’t; every year, you need new pencils. You shouldn’t have your annual budget based on a new textbook year nor on a pencils only year. You might want to structure it such that every X years the budget increases by Y%, else you risk the average overage begin spent and not budgeted for the higher expenses years, but those details could be worked out. You could also compare classes across grade levels and say, “Third, fourth, and sixth grade were all within 10% of one another. Fifth was 50% higher. What happened there?” This would also mitigate the influence of a particularly thrifty or lavish teacher.

        Thing is… none of these took me more than 30 seconds to figure. And maybe our admin team also considered them. But if I can sit there and, in 30 seconds, feel like I have a better plan and they haven’t convinced me why I’m wrong… I feel that is a failure of leadership. Again, this goes beyond simple budgeting into other areas of management. But management should have the trust of those it leaders; my lacks that.Report

      • Avatar Tod Kelly in reply to Burt Likko
        Ignored
        says:

        @kazzy “Again, this goes beyond simple budgeting into other areas of management. But management should have the trust of those it leaders; my lacks that.”

        This seems important, and probably makes your budget discussion a symptom of a larger problem.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Burt Likko
        Ignored
        says:

        @tod-kelly

        Indeed. This exchange (which, as I note below and have since learned, was ultimately overblown) is emblematic of deeper issues. In fact, if things were better, I likely would have interpreted the situation more charitably and not taken to the blogosphere in anger.

        I have since provided feedback that I think budgeting process conversations should be more transparent and that teachers — who will ultimately be charged with adhering to the budget — should be part of the process. As someone (perhaps you) note above, it can be unreasonable to expect leaders to know the intricacies of every program. As such, it would seem wise to include those who are more expert in these areas.Report

    • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Tod Kelly
      Ignored
      says:

      I don’t think there can be any sympathy for running a school through the beginning of year X without classroom budgets, then midway through year X informing people that they’re over budget. That may not be exactly what happened, but that’s exactly what Kazzy said happened, and that’s all we have to go on. And we like Kazzy, so until we get more info, we ought to believe that’s what actually happened, at least from his perspective. Can that be defensible?

      (Of course if indeed all anyone has done is ask about the difference, not inform him that’s he’s over budget, then fair enough, asking those questions is more than appropriate, since doing so would be necessary for the establishment of any reasonable budget process. But Kazzy clearly said he was told he’s over budget. I would also say that it seems crazy to me to set baselines for classroom expenses based on teachers’ past expenditures in a no-limit environment rather than at some standard per-pupil rate. And asking about differences in expenditures from year to would seem to be a reasonable thing to do in the course of trying to set that reasonable rate. So it seems plausible that that kind of information-gathering may be something that Kazzy interpreted as a warning for going over-budget. But that’s not the report we got from him, and, again, we should believe that his interpretation is not in error absent evidence that it is.)Report

      • Avatar Tod Kelly in reply to Michael Drew
        Ignored
        says:

        My problem with this response is that it requires that one party be declared a villain in a situation where none is needed.

        Consider:

        An administrator sets a budget for the upcoming year based on the previous year’s revenue & expenses. During the course of a year, one department spends significantly more than it did in the previous year without providing additional revenue. The administrator talks with the department, explains that the rate of expense is putting things over budget, and says that the rate of expense needs to decrease. (Or, possibly, the department makes a compelling case that the overage is beneficial to a degree to allow it, and cuts are make elsewhere.)

        I’m not seeing where any party has to be at fault here. From where I sit, this is simply how an organization is properly run.

        I have a sense people are bringing a lot to the table (anti-government worker sentiment, their own issues with management at someplace they worked, etc.) and inserting it into a regular, everyday part of running an organization that has limited revenue.Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Michael Drew
        Ignored
        says:

        Number one, I’m not saying anyone’s a villain, nor do they need to be thought of as one. I’m just saying this action can’t be given any sympathy.

        What you seem to fail to take into account is that this administration didn’t do exactly the things you talk about an administration could have done in a similar situation that would have made its actions sympathetic. Namely, set a budget and communicate its specifics before expecting managers to adhere to it. Or maybe you think setting a budget at the top of the organization but not communicating with the people expected to enact it about their line in that budget is a potentially sympathetic way to do administration?Report

      • Avatar J@m3z Aitch in reply to Michael Drew
        Ignored
        says:

        @tod-kelly
        I’m not seeing where any party has to be at fault here. From where I sit, this is simply how an organization is properly run.

        I think this part of the OP answers the question.
        I was just informed that I have gone over budget even though I was never given a budget.

        I don’t think failing to specify the budget, then telling someone they went over it, is how to properly run an org.

        (Better to do it as my org does: ask us to draft an itemized budget for our department, then cut us below last year’s level without bothering to explain.)Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Michael Drew
        Ignored
        says:

        @michael-drew

        As noted below, it is hard to know if I am actually over budget or if we are just looking at my spending. All convos thus far have been via email, none have been with people actually charged with financing, and phrases such as, “We need to look at spending before we approve any more POs for you,” are overly vague. So, maybe I interpreted it in a worse light than was warranted but I got the distinct impression that I shouldn’t spend any more money. If that is not what was intended, I think it fair to expect the leaders to be more clear in their directives.
        @tod-kelly

        I don’t think there is necessarily a villain, but I do think we can examine the missteps of the various involved parties. As I outlined below, I feel I did my due diligence given current practices to secure the necessary funds. Maybe more was required, but that was not articulated to me by leadership.

        Also, you bring up a good point about spendings-vs-revenue, but “revenue” is largely out of my control. I mean, the quality of my program can impact enrollment. But that is ultimately the purview of the admissions and marketing department. This is another major issue for schools. My classroom’s enrollment is down. This is almost entirely out of my control (and given the feedback I get from parents, I think is actually in spite of my efforts). What was a near-consequence of this? Taking away my assistant. Fortunately, I was able to fight and have it recognized that she was essential to the program. You know what was never discussed? Evaluating the admissions department. For some reason, that never seems to be on the table when enrollment drops. Schools just look at cutting spending. Or we spend more on bringing in people who are “social media experts” because lord knows when parents look at what school to spend $20K on, they go to Facebook.Report

      • Avatar Tod Kelly in reply to Michael Drew
        Ignored
        says:

        @jm3z-aitch “I don’t think failing to specify the budget, then telling someone they went over it, is how to properly run an org.”

        Then if an administration has not given you a specific dollar amount not to go over, they should lose all authority to pull in the reigns, regardless of expenses?

        If we took every single person who visits this site, how many of them would know the operating budget of whatever department/company they work for? Does this give them some kind of right to spend as much of the company’s money as they wish?

        I get that Kazzy’s admin may not have handled the situation in the way everyone might have preferred, but this notion that because they didn’t communicate effectively on day one that they shouldnow sit on their hands and let expenses accrue unchecked incredibly bizarre.Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Michael Drew
        Ignored
        says:

        Your further infio is very clarifying, K, and with it I find myself having to agree more or less with Tod. It doesn’t sound like they’re saying you’ve done anything wrong, per se, they just sound a little spooked suddenly by the whole classroom-expense question. It sounds like they got a little caught out, and what at the time was a reasonable request for a classroom et now looks like… Um, what now? That, or approval from Head of School + Head of Dept. still don’t manage to add up to “fully cognizant approval from relevant moneyminder,” which can definitely happen. Which, again, still not really sympathetic (for them), any of that. But it sounds like what you’re dealing with is some mild budget panic from a heretofore unsympathetically lax administration. It doesn’t sound like they’re saying you did anything wrong per se. They’re just scrambling a bit to get their hands around a situation they are realizing they may have let get a bit out of their control. And their communication is suffering for it. Would be my guess.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Michael Drew
        Ignored
        says:

        @michael-drew

        Having exchanged a few more emails, I think you’ve nailed it here, particularly with this description: “some mild budget panic from a heretofore unsympathetically lax administration.” I just got an email explicitly saying, “We are not telling you not to spend more but…” and then there were three or four “buts” about prior approval and the like. Which I’m okay with. Still better to have known this in September. But not the issue it was first presented as.

        I wonder how often admin talks to one another. My head of school wants to be a yes-woman. Our finance guy is a tightwad (and may need to be… from what I’ve heard about our current financial outlook). If HoS says yes, FG can’t really say no. But he can talk behind the scenes with HoS who might then come back and say, “I know I said yes, but unfortunately we have to wait.” Which doesn’t seem like the marking of a well run organization. It seems there should be a clearer set of checks-and-balances and higher expectations that even if you aren’t the money guy, you have some sense of whether or not you should approve the big expense. Similarly, even if your bottom line is the money, you should recognize the importance of certain expenditures and make them work.

        Sigh… why don’t they just put me in charge?Report

      • Avatar J@m3z Aitch in reply to Michael Drew
        Ignored
        says:

        @tod-kelly
        Then if an administration has not given you a specific dollar amount not to go over, they should lose all authority to pull in the reigns, regardless of expenses?

        I’m pretty sure I didn’t say that. The question is about how and when spending limits are communicated. Is there anything in Kazzy’s story that suggests that has been done well?

        That is, I don’t think anyone here is criticizing the school’s need to control its spending, or its move toward having discrete classroom budgets. But to let a person go on as they’ve always gone on, and in the middle of the FY to suddenly spring on them that there is–or at least may be–a problem with them going on as they’ve always gone one? Are you sympathetic with that? That is, are you sympathetic with the process that’s been followed, as opposed to the school’s goals/purpose?

        If we took every single person who visits this site, how many of them would know the operating budget of whatever department/company they work for? Does this give them some kind of right to spend as much of the company’s money as they wish?

        Can you point me to anyone who’s arguing they should be able to? Can you point me to anyone who’s arguing Kazzy should have unlimited spending power for his classroom?Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Michael Drew
        Ignored
        says:

        Then if an administration has not given you a specific dollar amount not to go over, they should lose all authority to pull in the reigns, regardless of expenses?

        No, no one’s saying that. We were saying if they told him in so many words that he’sover his budget without ever having given him a buget, that would facacta. They can certainly pull the reigns, not by saying that, but by saying things like “We have to look at how money is being spent” (which it sounds like is more or less what happened, so we don’t really have much of a disagreement anymore). It seems strange that they would say this to Kazzy if he is a relatively low spender, though, even given the greater expense this year relating to the pets, especially once Kazzy says to them, “Remember? The pigs I requested and got approved by the head of school and the head of my department? Remember?”

        This administration continues to sound like it unsympathetically can’t keep its right hand informed of what its left is doing to me.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Michael Drew
        Ignored
        says:

        And I should point out… I tend to know more about the inner workings of our school than most teachers (in part because I have a quasi-admin role). I think a number of teachers assume we are just peachy financially; I know the truth to be otherwise. So, I’m not entirely shocked to learn that pursestrings are being tightened. Others will be completely caught off guard. This, again, seems to be a mistake by the admin. I get that they don’t want to panic people about a dire financial outlook. But being honest and saying, “Hey… things are a bit lean. The recession hasn’t fully taken hold amongst our community, we’ve got more people than ever on tuition assistance, and we want to maintain our pledge to bring salaries into the 75% percentile in the area. This means budgeting might get tighter. We’ll do our best to minimize the impact on students and classroom programming, but we’re probably going to scrutinize POs more closely and ask you to think bigger picture with your classroom spending,” doesn’t seem like a bad idea.Report

    • Avatar Patrick in reply to Tod Kelly
      Ignored
      says:

      If this is the first year that they have attempted individual classroom budgets and you’re already hugging up close to 15% over what you spent all of last year at the halfway mark, I actually think it’s very appropriate for an administrator to demand to know why, and even demand that you cut down on expenses on a go forward basis (depending on revenue and other expenses). In fact, I think it’s more than appropriate — I kind of think it’s their job.

      A quibble.

      If this is the first year they’re attempting a formal budget, it’s kinda their job to understand if there are trends involved.

      If Kazzy has already spent 115% of last year’s total with only half the year gone… the question is actually “is last year’s total representative of Kazzy’s classroom spending?”

      Because if he’s spent 115% of last year’s total but 52% of the average of the last five year’s totals, that indicates that last year was an outlier, not indicative of a trend.

      I mean, yeah, it’s the administrator’s job to do the administrator’s job. But probably the most important part of the administrator’s job is to understand enough about the practitioner’s job that the administrator isn’t getting in the way of the practitioner doing their job by asking the practitioner to do the administrator’s job.Report

  6. Avatar Damon
    Ignored
    says:

    So here’s the thing..

    1600 dollars isn’t a budget…it’s a pool of money. A budget has catagories like labor, travel, etc. that are clearly identified and have dollar amounts attached to each catagory, and ideally, there is some time phasing to those expenditures, monthly, quarterly, etc. Also, a budget is something that has that detail that was AGREED TO PRIOR TO THE CURRENT YEAR, not what some desk jockey made up after the fact or backed into.

    You should also get a report detailing your current month budget verses how you actually spent that money and any overages/underages by catagory. That’s a budget.Report

    • Avatar Patrick in reply to Damon
      Ignored
      says:

      This is an important bit.

      If you don’t understand how Kazzy spends money (consumables, durables, etc), then you’re not going to have any predictive value for this year or next year’s expenditures just by looking at last year’s pool of money.Report

  7. Avatar Kim
    Ignored
    says:

    *rolls dice*
    Care to guess how many businesses just went out of business?Report

  8. Avatar Kazzy
    Ignored
    says:

    Let me clarify a few things…

    My “classroom budget” is for classroom expenses. It does not cover overhead, salaries, or anything. It is for supplies and materials.

    In years past, I would submit a PO for supplies, get it approved (every time), and receive what I order. Or, if I paid out of pocket, I would submit a disbursement form for reimbursement and get paid back (every time).

    Last year, there was talk about setting classroom budgets, but neither a process for doing so nor amounts were ever laid out.

    This year, the process was more or less the same. The only difference is that if I handed a PO to my division head in my room, she would say, “I have to bring this down to my office to put your account number on it.” “We have account numbers?” “Yes. It’s new this year. It’s to track expenses.” “Does that impact what we can spend?” “We are working on budgets but no numbers have been set yet.”

    I tend to spend less than others. Not only because the expenses of a PreK program tend to be less than other grades* but because I don’t believe in wasting money just because it’s there. So, last year, I spent $1600 over 10 months on a class of 13 students. That amounts to about $13 per student per month. That’s pretty good, if I do say so myself. Especially when you consider that parents are spending $17K a year on PreK tuition. Yes, yes, I know the bulk of that money goes to other things but I think they would be angry to learn that “only” $13/student/month was spent on supplies. Of course, many supplies can be used year after year. I don’t need new blocks each year. But I do need new crayons. Some things are consumables and need replacement; others are not.

    However, on my latest round of submits, I got an email from my division head. “I heard from G in the accounting office. We need to talk about budgeting.” In emails since then, I learned of the $1600/$1800 issue. I was not directly told I could not spend more, only that we had to “look at how I was spending money”. Which is admin-talk for, “We don’t want to commit to anything one way or the other in writing.”

    What is particularly frustrating is that the primary expenditure this year was related to the acquisition of two classroom pets. Which I sought and received approval from both my head of school and my division head. I mapped out the up front expenses (about $300) and the expected monthly expenses (about $50) and received approval. But this wasn’t done in any formal process because we didn’t have a formal process. I asked my head of school if I could get the piggies and she said okay. I asked my division head about the spending and she said okay. So I moved forward.

    As I see it, there are multiple issues:
    1.) Lack of transparency
    2.) Lack of communication among leadership. I suspect that my division head told me all was well because she understood all to be well until someone else — who was monitoring spending but not telling her — told her otherwise.
    3.) A general failure to think long-term about budgeting

    To Tod’s point, I would have no issue justifying my expenses or submitting for preauthorization. The issue is that I was never told I needed to do so until after a problem arose. The horse is out of the barn and we are now only beginning to discuss whether we should explore doors.

    Perhaps these sorts of issues are more universal, but they seem uniquely problematic in schools. You often get people in positions of leadership who don’t have leadership skills. We are particularly egregious on this front, having elevated three former teachers with no formal admin/leadership training into senior admin positions because it was easier/cheaper to do that than bring in outsiders. I’m getting off on a bit of a rant here and could talk for pages about the particular struggles of my school’s leadership… but it seems to me that if me — the lowly PreK teacher — can see such an obvious flaw in this approach, which can’t the business manager and head of school — folks supposedly trained in such matters — see it? Or do they see it and not care?

    * This is factored into tuition, mind you.Report

  9. Avatar Kazzy
    Ignored
    says:

    @jm3z-aitch

    I don’t think full transparency is the ideal approach for exactly the reason you describe. But *more* transparency than is often given.

    If I may share an anecdote…

    A friend of mine used to work in the facilities department of another school. I went to him complaining one day about some thing or another related to facilities. “Well,” he said, “They were probably dealing with issues X, Y, and Z.” “I didn’t even know those issues exist. Holy shit, that is a pain in the ass. No wonder they said no.” I didn’t need to know the intricacies of it all, but needed to know more than I did to have the necessary empathy* to understand their decision. So I don’t necessarily need to know that the 4th grade class got $150 for markers. But even basics like saying, “We also have to pay the specialist teachers plus the maintenance guys plus the electric bill… all things you didn’t consider in your initial calculation.” Sure, some folks will still complain. But a great manager ought to be able to work around that.

    As for rising-to-the-level-of-incomptence, I think about this all the time with regards to myself. I have acquired a title with the work “Director” in it, largely because I pushed for the role. Among the people on staff, I am definitely the most qualified for such a role. And given that we can’t bring in someone from the outside to perform the role full time, I guess it makes sense that I have it. But when I connect with colleagues at other schools with similar such roles, I see how I’m not really fully qualified for it and have a lot of work to do if I want to get further with it.
    Schools are somewhat unique in this regard because there isn’t as direct an upward trajectory as there are in other industries. Many teachers become teachers and that’s that. They might gain some more responsibility, which does risk this tendency, but I don’t think it is quite the same. My school is particularly guilty in large part because during the recent leadership shift, everyone made big power plays to get more power and responsibility (myself included!) and were largely rewarded for it. And while determination and such are important skills for leadership, they are not the only ones. Rewarding people just because they push hard is, again, poor form.

    * I don’t use this term in a wishy-washy, touchy-feely way, but in terms of the actual ability to perspective take.Report

    • Avatar J@m3z Aitch in reply to Kazzy
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      says:

      Kazzy,

      I agree. I don’t want to be taken as implying that managers are good at finding the right amount of transparency; just that it’s a hard task, and having some empathy for the difficulty of finding the right amount may be valuable, too.

      Of course some managers are in fact just dicks about it, enjoying the power of withholding information, and others are just clueless about the value of providing a little more information.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to J@m3z Aitch
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        says:

        I worked for two years as an assistant teacher. I had a phenomenal head teacher above me who herself had been an assistant teacher once upon a time. I remember her saying, “I remember what it was like to be in your role and I’ll do my best to remember that.” And, in large part, she did.

        When I become an HT, I vowed to do the same thing. I think my manner is different than hers and I probably do it differently than her and (likely) worse, but I do try to remember how it was to be on the other side of the table. I think I am a better HT vis a vis my relationship with my ATs because I was once an AT. But I was fortunate to have had a good experience as an AT with a wonderful HT.

        I’m sure this happens elsewhere. Good mangers likely worked under other good managers and remember what it was like to have worked under good managers. I’d also venture to guess that bad managers probably had bad managers of their own. And/or they’ve forgotten what it was like to be an underling. Or, worse yet, they think, “I suffered as a peon on these folks will, too.”

        There are sooooo many layers to leadership, many of which are oft neglected. Hell, even the terms we use… “management” vs “leadership” tell us a thing or two. I’d be open to working in leadership but I would eschew ever being labeled a “manager”. I don’t want to manage people. People can manage themselves. I want to lead people.Report

      • Avatar J@m3z Aitch in reply to J@m3z Aitch
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        says:

        I think there’s probably a lot of truth to what you say here.Report

  10. Avatar ScarletNumbers
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    says:

    Governmental agencies, at least in New Jersey, are famous for moving money from one budget to another in order to balance it. Two examples:

    1) New Jersey, by law, isn’t allowed to run a budget deficit. So, in order to plug a deficit one year, Governor Jim Florio sold a portion of Route 95 to the New Jersey Turnpike Authority.

    2) Jersey City needed to raise some quick money, so they sold Cochrane Stadium to the Jersey City Board of Education. Normally, this wouldn’t matter, since the tax base for a municipal government and the tax base for a board of education are the same, but since the Jersey City Public Schools get a tremendous amount of state aid, this was a backdoor way to redirect the money to the city itself.

    I know most of you are shocked, SHOCKED that these things would happen in New Jersey…Report

  11. Avatar Brandon Berg
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    says:

    What is Hanley’s Second Law? This appears to be the Internet’s first use of the term.Report

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