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The literature is clear, school-based management and its variations, site based budgeting, site based decision-making and site based management can mean many things. Illustrating the problem of definition, Herman (1991), writing for the National Association or Secondary School Principals, said school-based management is a structure and a process that allows greater building level decision making related to some or all the areas of instruction, personnel, budget, policy, and other matters pertinent to local school building governance; and it is a process that involves a variety of stakeholders in decisions related to the local individual school.
The "some or all" part of the definition allows a variety of implementations of school-based management, which makes it difficult to assess its impact. In the narrowest sense, school-based management is not new. There have always been decisions made at the school level. Some of these have involved consulting with the stakeholders. Parent and student involvement in fund raising and the ultimate disposition of funds raised certainly falls under the definition. It is the control of major budget items that schools claiming to be school-based managed point to as the distinguishing characteristic. Even this distinction includes schools that only control their supply and equipment budget as well as schools that control all aspects of their budget including staff.
Malen and Ogawa provide a more stringent definition. This definition separates what is actually considered school-based or site-based management from what is called school-based management.
The term "site-based management" means different things to different people. Site-based management can be viewed as a form of decentralization that designates the individual school as the unit of improvement and relies on the redistribution of decision-making authority as the primary means through which improvements will be stimulated and sustained. Essentially, site-based management implies that (a) some formal authority to make decisions in the central domains of budget, personnel, and program is delegated to and frequently redistributed among site-level actors; (b) a formal structure (council, committee, team, board) often composed of principals, teachers, parents, and, at times, students and community residents is created so that these actors can be directly involved in schoolwide decision making; and (c) site participants are afforded substantial discretion, even though their formal authority may be circumscribed by existing statutes, regulations, accountability. (1992, p. 185)
Neal adds purpose and method to the definition.
SCHOOL-BASED MANAGEMENT" is a research based, committed, structured, and decentralized method of operating the school district within understood parameters and staff role to maximize resource effectiveness by transferring the preponderant share of the entire school system's budget, along with the corresponding decisionmaking power, to the local schools on an equitable lumpsum basis, based upon a differentiated per pupil allocation to be spent irrespective of source in the best interests of the students in those schools according to a creative local school plan and local school budget developed by the principal collaboratively with trained staff, parents and students as stakeholders, and approved by the superintendent; such plans being designed to achieve approved goals of improving education by placing accountability at the individual school, and evaluated more by results than by methodology. (1991, p. 17)
Neal's definition reflects the roots of the current push to school-based management from the effective schools research and the expectation that regular assessment of goals and success in achieving goals will occur. The definition also puts forward per capita funding as an equitable approach to allocating resources to schools.
Neal's definition also describes the practice found in the Edmonton Public School District, as indicated by the following quotation.
A few school systems which have successfully decentralized stand as models for others interested in the move. The best example is the Edmonton, Alberta (Canada) public school system. It has the longest record of success (over ten years). (1991, p. 4)
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