Smarter Budgets, Smarter Schools

Smarter Budgets, Smarter Schools How to Survive and Thrive in Tight Times

Nathan Levenson
paper, 240 Pages
Pub. Date: May 2012
ISBN-13: 978-1-61250-138-3
Price: $32.00

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Pub. Date: May 2012
ISBN-13: 978-1-61250-275-5

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Look Inside the Book

A new edition of Smarter Budgets, Smarter Schools is available. Learn more.

Armed with real-world examples and out-of-the-box ideas, Nathan Levenson challenges conventional thinking about school budgeting and offers practical, actionable advice for school superintendents, central office leaders, building principals, and school board members.


Levenson’s timely book provides specific guidance and examples of how leaders can streamline their operations while keeping dollars in the classroom. Levenson also offers critical advice on how to negotiate the cultural and political barriers that educators often face when seeking financial efficiencies. Smarter Budgets, Smarter Schools is a book forward-thinking educational leaders, policymakers, and advocates should have on their shelves. — Frederick M. Hess, director of education policy studies, American Enterprise Institute

This is an invaluable superintendent and school board member resource: clear and concise, but also bold and courageous in describing what we have to do to get control of school budgeting. Here is the master plan with insight and relevant case examples that will have readers thinking differently in perilous economic times. — Glenn Koocher, executive director, MA Association of School Committees

From class size to curriculum, from nurses to libraries, from paraprofessionals to administrators, no subject escapes the objective scrutiny that Levenson brings to every line of the budget. In times of acute budget shortages, the author makes a compelling case for rational, if sometimes unpopular, choices that place the interests of children above those of adults. — Douglas B. Reeves, founder, The Leadership and Learning Center

Anyone who thinks finance is a dry subject hasn’t read this book. Levenson presents a new framework for maximizing benefit at a particular expenditure level, and then fills the pages with fresh and desperately needed ideas about how to rethink resources in ways not typically considered in the district allocation process. At a time when district leaders face tough decisions about how best to spend their limited dollars, this book is an absolute must-read. — Marguerite Roza, research associate professor, University of Washington

Many authors talk about restructuring, reimagining, or transforming school districts. Nate Levenson shows you how to accomplish this across the many facets of any school district’s operations. His ‘crazy ideas’ are not so crazy when you stop to think about their implications. In fact, if implemented, you might just create the model school district of the future—driven by student success. — Jack Dale, superintendent, Fairfax County Public Schools

This work is an interesting, quick read, filled with inspiring success stories and thought provoking ideas. — Kaitlin Anderson, Journal of School Choice

Smarter Budgets, Smarter Schools: How to Survive and Thrive in Tight Times is a guide for the teacher and school administrator who still wants the best for the students even as the money supply shrinks further for the school. — Midwest Book Review

Nathan Levenson offers rational, honest, and tangible ways for cash-strapped district leaders to shed budget heft without compromising student learning. — Chris Tessone, Education Gadfly

The concepts are intellectually stimulating with plenty of specifics on how many dollars could be saved in each case. Levenson includes charts and sample worksheets and the narrative is well-written with real-life examples. — Art Stellar, School Administrator

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About the Author

Nathan Levenson began his career in the private sector, starting as a strategic planning management consultant, the owner of a midsized manufacturer of highly engineered machinery, and a turnaround consultant helping struggling firms. A passion for public education led to a career switch that included six years as a school board member, an assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction in Harvard, Massachusetts, and superintendent of the Arlington (Massachusetts) Public Schools.

Nathan’s leadership led to widescale changes in academic programs by accelerating the move to standards-based education and teacher-developed common formative assessments in reading, math, writing, and social studies.

He helped create and champion an intensive reading program that reduced the number of students reading below grade level by 68 percent and revamped special education services, leading to a 24 percentage-point improvement in academic achievement in English and math. The Rennie Center for Education Research and Policy identified Arlington High as a best-practice school for raising achievement of students with special needs by more than nearly all other schools in the state, a two-thirds reduction in the achievement gap.

By redesigning its budgeting, custodial, financial accounting, and leadership structure, the Arlington district created significant savings while providing higher service levels in all areas that were affected. Savings were shifted to academic programs that helped students directly. As a strong believer in the importance of developing staff, Nathan implemented a new system for hiring teachers and created teamwork between administrators and teams of teachers, despite an environment that had previously prized isolation and turf conflict.