Anyone who has perused a school budget or attended a school board meeting where budgets were discussed knows the detailed spending and revenue plans are no simple thing to understand.

But Michael Miller, business manager for Eastern Lebanon County School District, apparently has the process down pat. This year, for the second year running, ELCO was recognized by the Association of School Business Officials International with the Meritorious Budget Award (MBA) for the 2020–21 budget year.

The award is given each year, according to an ASBO press release, “for excellence in budget presentation.”

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“Michael has done yeoman’s work to complete the necessary steps in the process,” ELCO superintendent Julia R. Vicente told LebTown, “and receiving the recognition is quite an accomplishment.”

In fact, Vicente said, Miller “spearheaded this process for recognition last year and, on his first attempt, was awarded the recognition.”

In 2019-20, she said, ELCO was among 11 school districts in Pennsylvania — and the only district in Lebanon County — to receive the award.

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The full list of winners for 2020-21 has not yet been published by the organization.

“Needless to say, this is quite a recognition,” Vicente said. Receiving the award, she added, “demonstrates to our community our success in presenting a high-quality and easy to understand budget.”

ASBO spokeswoman Molly Barrie said in a statement that the annual awards “promote and recognize best budget presentation practices in school districts.”

“Participants submit their applications and budget documents to a panel of school financial professionals who review the materials for compliance with the MBA Criteria Checklist and other requirements and provide expert feedback that districts can use to improve their budget documents,” Barrie explained. “Districts that successfully demonstrate they have met the necessary program requirements may earn either the MBA or Pathway to the MBA, an introductory program that allows districts to ease into full MBA compliance.”

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ASBO International executive director David J. Lewis said in a statement that, “by participating in the programs, not only do districts have access to the tools and resources they need to communicate the district’s goals and objectives clearly, they demonstrate their commitment to upholding nationally recognized budget presentation standards.”

ASBO is the parent organization of the Pennsylvania Association of School Business Officials.

Miller noted that approximately 135 school districts received the award throughout the United States and Canada last year, “which means it is a rare and prestigious award considering there are approximately 13,800 public school districts in the U.S.” and 500 in Pennsylvania, he said.

Meeting the ASBO criteria for the award means that a school district’s taxpayers get a clearer understanding of the budget process, he said — in part because it asks districts to provide data that encompasses the three years preceding the current budget, and a forecast of the three years following the proposed budget.

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“The end result is a document that gives stakeholders and the community a greater level of transparency on the budget process that standard PDE budget forms or business manager created PowerPoint presentations could not provide to the community,” he said. “Our 2020-21 MBA budget document is 122 pages to meet the MBA requirements set by ASBO, organized in a fashion that … a non-budget-oriented person can understand.”

The resultant package, Miller added, “is a significantly more robust process” than is mandated by the Pennsylvania Department of Education. School districts applying for the award take on that extra work voluntarily.

“The budget submission is then reviewed by school budget professionals across the country, Miller said. They review ELCO’s budget document and give advice and comments on its presentation, data and materials,” he said.

“It gives the ELCO community more transparency on our budget process and financial results and allows for my budget work and presentation to be reviewed by school business professionals from all over the U.S. and Canada,” Miller said. “The Meritorious Budget Award from ASBO, in concluding, says that not only did ELCO meet the checklist in their budget submission for the goal of community transparency but made improvements suggested from the prior year and met the approval for the new set of reviewers this year.”

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