Developing Flexible Budgets

Robert Hanyak, M.S.
University of the Pacific

 As department chair of a Communication Sciences and Disorders program, the budgeting process becomes a major job assignment in your professional life.  The nature of our training as scientists, clinicians, and academicians normally does not provide us with training in accounting and budgeting.  Some individuals could be considered naturals at budgeting, but most of us have to learn the process once appointed or elected department chair.

 Last year at the Council meeting in Jacksonville,  I presented on the advantages of unrestricted budget accounts to supplement your departmentís current operating budgets.  Your department's current operating budget is a restricted account that includes the money provided by the institution during the fiscal year (July 1st - June 30th at our university) to operate the department.  These funds must be used during the specific fiscal year, or the funds revert back to the university on June 30th.  Unrestricted budget accounts permit funds to "roll-over" from year to year, which allows for better budget planning and saving for larger purchases.  The Department of Speech-Language Pathology at the University of the Pacific currently has eight such unrestricted budgets.  As the department's current restricted operating budget does not satisfy all of the demands of the department's faculty (clinical supplies, travel, scientific equipment, computers, research funding, part-time clinic supervisors, etc.), the unrestricted budgets provide the additional funds to make the department run smoothly.  Another advantage of unrestricted funds is that higher administrators often overlook these funds as these accounts are not directly tied to their budget printouts.  The establishment of unrestricted budget accounts is one of the best means for providing financial stability for your department.

 A major source of information for assisting you with the creation of your departmental budgets and unrestricted accounts is the business officers on your campus.  It is important that you know the budget manager, controller,  and purchasing agent.  They have considerable influence over how much university funding your department receives and how you may use this money.  The best approach to working with these business officers is to deal with them honestly.  Tell them what you are trying to accomplish, and ask them how best to make this happen.  Using this approach, our department has been successful in increasing our annual funding over the past six years.

 Another source of budget information for the department chair is the National Association of College and University Business Officers (NACUBO).  NACUBO is a nonprofit professional organization representing chief administrative and financial officers at more than 2,100 colleges and universities across the country.  NACUBO's mission is to promote sound management and financial practices at colleges and universities.  On their website,  (http://www.nacubo.org/)  accounting tutorials are provided to assist the department chair.  Recent tutorials included budgeting, petty cash, and restricted versus unrestricted accounts.

 Here are my  "Top 5"  suggestions for entrepreneurial chairs to develop flexible budgets:

 1.  Set up unrestricted accounts as soon as possible.  The flexibility and freedom that these accounts allow you to enjoy will be worth any additional work required to establish them.  The ability to save funds for future years provides you with financial security.  Currently our department's operations could run smoothly on unrestricted funds for a minimum of two years if the university provided us with no current operating funds during this period (I am not advocating this).  This provides the department chair with financial peace of mind.

 2.  Don' t ask for money-- earn it.  If you continually seek additional money from your school dean, you probably will not receive it as the dean has limited resources for many departments.  You need to take responsibility for your department's financial resources.  Identify opportunities within your university (special travel funds, teaching incentive stipends, technology grants, etc.) and within the community (school districts, government agencies, private speech, language and hearing centers, etc.) for additional funds.  Pursue these opportunities as they can significantly augment your budgets.  Our department currently has contracts with two different off-campus agencies totaling $360,000 per year.  The income allows us to hire additional staff, provide graduate student stipends, purchase additional clinical supplies, and send faculty to many professional meetings.

 3.  Establish a Speech and Hearing Gift unrestricted account with your university development office.  Most alumni from your training programs believe in the work that you and your department do.  A gift to the department is one means of showing their support for the profession.  While your graduates may not give large sums of money or participate in your university's annual giving program, they will give what they can to their own Communication Sciences and Disorders program.  If you identify a particular goal and solicit their help, your alumni will respond.  Our department has been able to raise $20,000 for new computers and technology and $25,000 for an endowed scholarship fund in the name of one of our retiring faculty members since 1994.  A by-product of working with our development officer to set up the Speech and Hearing Gift account is her knowledge of our program and its needs.  This year she identified a local foundation that she thought would support our speech, language and hearing center.  The foundation's mission is to assist children within the community.  Faculty discussion led to a proposal to the foundation for a childrenís library within our center.  The faculty wanted to promote literacy in their language training and provide many of our low-income families with quality reading materials for use at home.  The foundation provided us with $3,500 to establish the children's library.  Faculty are currently in the process of ordering children's books for the new library.

 4.  Listen to all offers.  When someone within or outside of the university presents you with an offer that may benefit the department, listen.  At first it may seem that the department is unable to participate, but creative thinking may produce a good idea.  Several years ago our department was asked to participate in a multi-disciplinary grant to provide speech- and-language services to adult developmentally delayed individuals.  No one on our faculty had the expertise or interest in leading this project.  Rather than say no to the offer, the department decided to hire a speech-language pathology consultant with expertise with this population to head up the project.  The grant has grown over the past three years from $25,000 to $120,000.

 5.  Treat your faculty well.  Once you have been successful in obtaining additional funding through whatever means, treat your full-time faculty well.  It will assist you in your retention of good colleagues.  Faculty want good office space, travel funds, computers, research funds, teaching/research assistants, secretarial support and reduced teaching loads.  Use your funds to give the faculty what they want (within reason).  Our department has been able to meet the faculty members' desires by hiring part-time clinical supervisors to reduce their teaching loads, paying their national and state organization annual dues, sending them to two or three professional conferences per year with all expenses paid, purchase new office furniture for all faculty, purchase new office computers every three years, provide for catered meals for faculty meetings on a regular basis, and purchase holiday gifts for faculty as a means of saying thank you for a job well done.