headshot of Alita ZuberAlita Zuber, assistant superintendent for business at the Ossining Union Free School District in New York, is a recognized thought leader on financial issues affecting school districts in the United States. In this month’s questionnaire, we asked her what principals should know about school finance, how school districts can cut costs, and about the best book she’s read in the last year.

What is the most important thing principals should know about school finance?

Principals should be able to discuss the budget in the context of their own school’s needs. If there’s money allocated for additional after-school programs, for example, they should be able to articulate those details to parents.

Why did you choose a career in school business administration? 

I love being able to find ways to identify inefficiencies and reduce expenses to help sustain and/or improve instruction and learning.

Who was your mentor?

Anthony Cashara—my first supervisor in school business management. 

What’s the most exciting part of your job?

When the school budget passes.

How do you educate the community about school finance issues? 

All constituent groups want to know what’s in the budget for them. When a taxpayer enters the voting booth to vote on the school district budget, they should have all the information they need to make a decision, and it’s my job to make sure they understand it.

What’s one cost-cutting budget item all school districts should look at?

The largest component of the budget is personnel (and benefits). Business officials should continually examine health care benefits as well as expenses related to facilities management and transportation. Make sure you’ve maximized your eligibility for state aid federal grants.

What one thing would you change about education funding?

State funding allocations should be monitored by the federal government to ensure that students living in high poverty areas receive the same quality education as their counterparts attending schools in affluent areas.

What’s the best book you’ve read in the last 12 months?

Instinct: The Power to Release your Inborn Drive by T.D. Jakes.

What music inspires you?

Gospel music.