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Curriculum Center Browse Bibliography Build EPacket Pricing Structure Distribution Process Management Control in Nonprofit Organizations
Boulder Public Schools
Young, David W.
Functional Area(s):
   Management Control Systems
Difficulty Level: Beginner
Pages: 9
Teaching Note: Not Available. 
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First Page and the Assignment Questions:

Edward Caton, a teacher in a midsize elementary school in Boulder, Colorado, hoped someday to rise through the administrative ranks to serve as a principal of his own school, but he felt that to do so, he should understand more about the position to which he aspired. This was especially important to him in terms of the control he might have over the budget, which he knew was central to real power in many organizations.

In an effort to learn more about the operations of the Boulder Public Schools, he set up some informational interviews with the principals of an elementary school, a middle school, and a high school. Before making those rounds, he visited the headquarters of the Boulder School Committee to obtain background information for his interviews.


Mr. Caton learned that the Department of Implementation (DI) was central to the school system. It’s manager reported directly to the Superintendent of Schools. The DI was responsible for making school enrollment projections each December for the coming fiscal year (which ran from July to June). These projections were important since annual staffing needs for each school were determined by a rather complex formula that used the DI’s projections as the starting point. Moreover, since personnel formed the bulk of the budget, these projections effectively determined a school’s budget. Each school had a few weeks to challenge the DI’s projections, and, if a convincing argument could be made, the DI would modify them. Final enrollment projections were established by mid-January of each year.

Mr. Caton learned that Boulder, along with many other large cities, had seen declining enrollments in recent years. The decline was caused by a slowing of the birthrate, but also, in Boulder’s case, by flight from the city in the face of the desegregation orders which created busing and some violence within the schools. The result was not only a drop in enrollments, but also a change in the composition of the school system population. Specifically, during the past 15 years, the proportion of white students had dropped from 64 percent to only 27 percent. Black students, by contrast, had increased during those same years from 30 to 48 percent, and Hispanics from 4 to 17 percent. Moreover, the proportion of students termed very poor had increased, by one estimate, to two-thirds of the total; 60 percent of the families of Boulder public school students were classified as being at the poverty level of income as defined in federal guidelines.

Retrenchment had been necessary in the face of these shrinking enrollments, Staff reductions and the closing of school buildings had become almost commonplace during this era. At present, the BPS operated 77 elementary schools grades K-5, and 1 grades K-8; 22 middle schools grades 6-8, and 1 grades 7-8; and 17 high schools. Nearly 4,000 teachers worked in these schools.


Recently, the city had witnessed the beginnings of a rise in enrollments, and the DI was forecasting an increase to some 58,000 students in the upcoming fiscal year. The budget for the year had been set at $293 million, divided between two funds: Number 017 (General School Purposes, or GSP), which comprised $285 million of the total, and Number 027 . . .


  1. Define the key features of the current management control system in the Boulder Public Schools.
  2. As the manager (principal or headmaster) of a Boulder public school, what changes would you like to see made in the management control system? (Your proposals should, of course, be limited to those that you think might be acceptable to headquarters.)
  3. As the Deputy School Superintendent, what would be your reaction to these proposals?