Is your photocopier a financial black hole or a shining example of delegation on a reduced scale? How much does a maths lesson cost? How much should it cost? And is it more or less than an art lesson? And though you may know what your gas or maintenance bill is, how do you know it represents value for money?
You may not know the answers to these after reading Managing the Margins just published by the Secondary Heads Association. But you will have met the man who can help you find out.
Kevin McAleese, head of Harrogate Grammar School has written regularly in The TES about what he has learned about budgeting through the exchange of financial information with other schools. Now he has condensed the fruits of his research into 80 pages of hints, tips, comparative costings and useful contacts derived from the National Information Exchange Network he established last April. The aim was to sharpen up school spending decisions through the technique known as benchmarking.
"Management of expenditure, not income, is the key task for the school, " argues the thrift-finder general. Heads are quite properly concerned about the sufficiency of funding but "the daily practical management task for the senior staff of any school lies in making the best use of whatever resources are at their disposal."
Staffing may be the biggest item on the budget. But "similar sized and staffed schools have evolved significantly different patterns of staffing expenditure, " according to Kevin McAleese.
"Comparison of premises spending can also reveal lessons worth learning" such as the savings from independent metering of kitchens used by school meals suppliers, negotiating waste collection and cheap deals on maintenance during periods when contractors are idle.
"Knowing the cost of activities is not the same as establishing their educational value. But value for money is a component of school effectiveness, " he writes.
As for astronomic copier costs, Kevin McAleese found large secondary schools can consume more than 1,000,000 photocopies a year: "a black hole in the budget as printing and paper costs rise remorselessly". But some schools have halved these costs by replicating the LMS logic and installing photocopiers with separate access codes with monthly accounts for every department or member of staff.
"When someone else is paying staff will always want 100 copies; when it is charged to their own budget they make do with five copies and will ensure they are stored for re-use."
Managing the Margins: a benchmarking approach to the school Pounds 8.50 from SHA Publications, 130 Regent Road, Leicester LE1 7PG.