A static budget is defined as a budget that is “planned ahead of time based on the owner’s best guess about future actual activity.” This type of budget is therefore put together for the upcoming time period, and is often based on the data from past time periods, plus or minus different adjustments that management thinks will be necessary. In contrast, a flexible budget is one where the business management can make changes in the midst of an accounting period. Flexible budgeting allows for management to make better decisions on the fly, because the information used in those decisions is kept more up-to-date. Static budgeting relies only on the ability of management to analyze the numbers after the period in order to determine the magnitude and direction of variance, along with the causes of variance. For a flexible budget, management can identify issues with the budget right away, and take steps to deal with them. The new strategy and tactics can then be reflected the budget.
For the charter school, the budget presented is basically three static budgets. The budgets are set depending on the number of students, which is unknown. However, this budget does not reflect capacity to update the figures depending on what actual enrollment looks like. Instead, management would probably just use the closest number to the actual as a comparable when looking at variance. Thus, only one of these three budgets would actually be chosen for the variance analysis.
The total revenue per student, excluding grants, and net of the TRA reduction, is $6,064.06. This is determined by adding up the different revenue categories to determine a total non-grant revenue figure per student.
In calculating the total expenses per student, the school must separate out the fixed expenses and the variable expenses. The total expenses per student depend on the number of students. So at the 120 student level, the total expenses are $4,518 per student. At the 100 student level, total expenses per student are $5,283 and at the 66 student level the total expenses per student are $7,646. The vast majority of expense categories — and most of the expenses by dollar — are fixed. Variable expenses are only $694.5 per student. Fixed expenses are $458,817.
There are few expenses that are not necessary. The ones that could be offset by parents, such as field trips, could be cut from the budget. Others, however, are relatively minor. There could be cuts made with things like grass removal, but the bigger cuts would be in items that have a fixed/variable component. Staff levels — especially teachers — should be variable depending on the number of students. A school with 66 students will need about half the number of teachers as a school with 120 students. Yet, the payroll expense does not change depending on the number of students. Given that this is the biggest expense, surely adjusting it for class size would be a logical means of controlling costs. At some point, a baseline level of staff is required to run the premises, but at least some of class instruction is a variable expense and should be dependent on the number of students.
This school seems viable. The budget is set out for three different levels of enrollment, two of which are profitable without any work done on the budget at all. The third level, 66 students, is profitable if just a single teacher (or maybe 1 1/2 FTEs) is cut. Additionally, some services might not be viable. Special education students receive 0.5 FTEs worth of teacher, but if none are in the school, that could be cut. It is conceivable, given how small this school is, that this 0.5 teacher FTE is being used for only one or two students, which is poor value for money.
The breakeven point can be calculated on the basis of the fixed costs. The contribution margin is:
Non-grant revenue: $6,064.06 less variable costs $694.50 = contribution $5,369.56. This is then divided by the fixed costs to determine the breakeven point: 85.44, or 86 students since we don’t chop them in half. This figure assumes no grants, because often these grants are not guaranteed. Conservative budgeting holds that grants should be omitted from the budget because their lack of certainty means they cannot be relied on.
There are a few benefits of preparing this budget. The first such benefit is that the school can understand its breakeven enrollment point. After that point, the school would either consider closing if it cannot meet that point going forward or it can start to cut costs. Preparing this type of budget can help the school understand what costs are fixed and what are variable. In addition, it can shed light on what costs are too high, and what costs can be cut to help it improve its profitability. The school would also be able to gain a sense of how much it relies on grants, again helping it to make a better decision regarding the school’s long-term viability. The information that is derived from putting this budget together can help in control, because managers are able to make better decisions, and the effects of those decisions can be better monitored.
Variance analysis is one tool for control, but it has limits. It allows management to understand the magnitude and direction of variances, calling attention to line items that are misaligned with expectations. Knowing what the main areas of concern are helps to focus management’s attention on problem areas. The main limit of variance analysis is that it is backwards-focused. The variances are all in the past, so the information might be dated by the time that it is processed. In addition, variances could occur from poor estimates rather than any external event. Variance analysis should always be used in conjunction with other control mechanisms.
Other control mechanisms can be non-accounting in nature, such as setting performance standards for people and products. These should be congruent with the accounting performance measures. As far as accounting performance measures are concerned, control can be assisted with flexible budgets that allow for more rapid response to issues. The charter school is a new business, so flexible budgeting would be a valuable tool because the figures in the static budget might not be particularly realistic. Additionally, benchmarking is a good tool for a company in a business where there are other firms doing the same thing. Thus, other charter schools would be a good benchmark for the firm to analyze its ongoing performance. This school wants to achieve what other similar schools have already achieved, and that is what benchmarking allows for. In addition, benchmarking is a good way to set the initial static budget as well, for management of the school to have a good starting point for their basic control mechanisms.
Mueller, D. (2012). Static budget vs. flexible budget. eHow. Retrieved September 12, 2012 from http://www.ehow.com/info_7784641_static-budget-vs.-flexible-budget.html
Bigelow, L. (2012). Static vs. flexible budgets for new businesses. Houston Chronicle. Retrieved September 12, 2012 from http://smallbusiness.chron.com/static-vs.-flexible-budgets-new-businesses-20879.html
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