Making Strategic Budget Decisions

When the discussion turns to money, the stakes are suddenly higher — and more real. In this section, your team will establish criteria that will help you determine which of the proposals in your district arts plan are of the highest priority in year one.

For example, districts that have undertaken this work have identified the following criteria for making budget decisions, stating that each budgeted priority must:

  • Produce immediate, significant advances toward the district’s vision for arts education
  • Be relatively easy to implement in one year
  • Have a long-term benefit
  • Impact a significant number of students
  • Produce high visibility in the district and community
  • Engage the community on a deeper level
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TIP: In its Arts Education Performance Indicators(2008), the Los Angeles County Arts Commission estimates that 5% of the district general fund must be allocated in order to sustain quality arts instruction for all students in a district. The report can be downloaded at: http://www.lacountyarts.orgartsed/ docs/2008AEPI.pdf.

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Below, we have provided a conversation guide for setting up the relevant criteria against which budgeting decisions will be made.

Click here [PDF: 67KB] to access a sample budget proposal for a district arts program.

Because budget discussions can be sensitive, we encourage your team to revisit the “ground rules” or norms that you established in STAGE 1. As a refresher, our suggested guidelines include:

  • Slow down
  • Trust the process
  • Stay with the question
  • Honor and welcome each voice
  • Let others talk before you speak again
  • Limit cross talk
  • Discuss programs and concepts, not people
  • Listen with respect and assume good intent
  • The outcome will be greater than the sum of the parts

STAGE 5 FOCUSED CONVERSATION | Establishing Budget Criteria


To develop criteria for making budgeting decisions in relationship to the proposed district arts plan.


  • In STAGE 2, The Community Arts Team reviewed the current status of the arts education program, including historical and current funding sources and mechanisms.
  • For this conversation, provide the group with copies of the proposed plan, including specific program recommendations.


  • Individually, read through the list of proposed programs. Also individually, create a list of your top 5-10 priorities, and estimate the cost of implementing each in the first year.
  • Working in pairs, discuss your recommendations and budget estimates. Together, select your top 5-7 priorities, and write each on a separate half-sheet along with the estimated cost.
  • Facilitator collects the cards (20-25 cards), and posts them on the Sticky Wall. Read through the cards and invite any brief clarifying questions.
  • We’ve got all these great ideas. We need to determine how we will prioritize them for the purpose of budgeting.
    1. Which of these funding proposals will have the most positive impact on student learning in the arts?
    2. Which ones require the least/most energy? Time? Or money?
    3. Which ones do our parents/teachers/administrators respond to and value the most?
    4. Which ones will get the most immediate visible results?
    5. Which ones provide the most significant long-term benefits?
    6. What other considerations should be part of this decision-making?
    7. Let’s list the most important criteria to use in making these tough decisions.
  • Use chart paper to list the criteria generated in prompt 7, above.
  • Use the Sticky Wall to organize the half-sheets into High, Medium, and Low Priority groups based on how each proposal measures up to the criteria established in prompt 7.

Closing Conversation

  • Which items have received the highest priority?
  • How do you feel about these priorities? What is exciting? Where do you have concerns?
  • How does their total cost relate to our current budget? What are the implications for fund development?
  • What are the implications of these priorities on our students, teachers, other stakeholders?
  • How will we communicate these priorities in our presentation of the district arts plan and budget?