The School Budget Explained
This article is one of a series to help explain to residents some of the more arcane and complicated aspects of school budgets.
Budget codes are specified by the State Comptroller's Office under what is called the Uniform System of Accounts. They are used to organize budgets and are fundamentally the same in all school districts from Buffalo to Montauk.
The first level of organization is identified by function codes. These broadly identify each area of expenditure. They are summarized here:
Code 1000 - General Support
This code area includes budget lines for the Board of Education, District Clerk, the annual budget vote and election, as well as Central Administration (including the Superintendent's office, business operations and human resources), operations and maintenance, utilities, and insurance.
Code 2000 - Instruction
By far the largest category of expenditures, all regular elementary and secondary classrooms and other instruction are included here as well as expenditures for special education programs, as required by law, and budgets for extracurricular activities (clubs, intramurals, etc.) and interscholastic athletics.
Code 5000 - Transportation
All student transportation, whether by our own buses or by contract with private companies, are coded here. Salaries for drivers and mechanics as well as the purchase and maintenance of the fleet are included.
Code 7000 - Recreation
This includes the purchase of equipment and supplies for recreation and the weight training program for student athletes.
Code 9000 - Undistributed
This code refers to budgeted items paid to agencies rather than vendors or individuals. Included here are all employee benefits, such as health, dental, and life insurance as provided for by contract with employee groups, as well as payments to the Social Security and retirement systems. Also included here are payments for interest and principal payments for borrowing, whether for short term purposes or for long term debt for capital projects. (The term "undistributed" means that the item is not assigned to the function for which is it expended; for example, the district makes one large payment to the Teachers Retirement System for all employees covered by that system, instead of distributing the payment among numerous payroll codes.)
(Note: There are other function codes — 3000, 4000, etc. — which are not used by school districts and are not defined here.)
Each of the above function codes is then subdivided into standard object codes defined by the Uniform System of Accounts. In Roslyn, we provide three additional codes that provide even greater levels of budget detail than required by the state: location, program and administrator. A simple way to understand the five codes is to think of them as answering these basic question about the budget:
WHY? The function code indicates why something is allocated in the budget.
WHAT? The object code describes the specific item or service.
WHERE? The location code tells us where the item or service is being provided.
WHICH? The program code specifies which part of the program the item or service is allocated for.
WHO? The administrator code identifies the individual who is responsible for the budget item.
Let's look at an example of an actual budget code:
The function code, 2110, indicates that the budget item is for regular instruction.
The object code, 450, describes the needed item(s) as supplies.
The location code, 09, tells us that the supplies are for the Middle School.
The program code, 1000, specifies that these supplies are for art.
The administrator code, 901, identifies the middle school principal as the administrator making the request and taking responsibility for the expenditure.
Advantages of the Coding System
The coding system has the distinct advantage of allowing the budget to be reviewed in multiple ways. For example, if we wanted to know how much the district spends on supplies, we can search through all of the 450 object codes. Or, if we wanted to know how much the art program costs district-wide, we can zero in on the 1000 program codes. There are literally thousands of combinations of codes the school district can use to monitor expenditures.
Furthermore, the uniformity of these codes through the state facilitates the examination of school finances by state and independent auditors.