This time last year the country was reeling from the most savage cuts since Scotland's 32 local authorities came into being in 1996; many predicted that worse would inevitably follow in 2012-13.
But a cursory look at newspaper headlines in recent weeks suggests they were well off the mark. "Cash windfall for every city school", proclaimed the Edinburgh Evening News; "Services share extra money", announced the Press and Journal of Highland's budget; The Falkirk Herald trailed a "budget for growth".
The headlines are not entirely misleading. Compared with the uniform pain of last year, there has been some good news. A few councils increased their education budget, a few more kept it much the same; even the downward lurches have, in most cases, been less pronounced than last year. New money was found for certain local schemes, too, often involving youth employment.
TESS reported a year ago that Glasgow's net spending on education had slumped by pound;15.5 million in real terms; in Edinburgh, there had been a pound;4 million cut in education, mostly from schools' budgets.
The contrast is marked this time: a pound;2 million increase in net education spending in Glasgow, including pound;800,000 toward Curriculum for Excellence and attainment initiatives; following last year's heavy cuts, the budget in Edinburgh appears to be standing still, with no new savings demanded and no cut to school budgets.
But without political context, the figures mean little. Glasgow, where Labour only just held off an alternative SNP budget, is the central battleground in this May's council elections, a bellwether for the looming independence referendum. More than ever, both parties want to be perceived as champions of local services, not hard-headed accountants.
In Edinburgh, the trams debacle demands that councillors curry favour with a scunnered electorate. And it is surely no coincidence that one of the most relentlessly upbeat budget press releases came from Argyll and Bute, where local politicians would dearly love to obliterate memories of the fury unleashed at the end of 2010 by plans to close unprecedented numbers of rural schools.
Pain has been delayed until next year's round of budgets and, in some cases, front-loaded so that much of it was felt last February, allowing councils to present more of a "steady-as-she-goes" picture this time. And the latest settlements from the Scottish government have been better than expected; next year is likely to be a very different story.
February 2011's budgets felt like an axe being wielded indiscriminately: hundreds of classroom assistants hauled out of schools; CPD budgets slashed; opportunities for promotion removed across entire authorities. There were Dickensian overtones at times, as children were divested of fruit, bread, milk and clothing grants.
This year the cuts tend to be concentrated in a smaller number of areas. They reveal an uncertain future for many supply teachers, various forms of support staff, librarians, janitors, music instructors and technicians. Savings in community learning, music instruction, energy use and school transport crop up a number of times.
But many authorities have protected devolved school budgets and teaching jobs appear relatively secure, except where school rolls are falling. There is scant sign of councils resorting to compulsory redundancies, as some predicted they might have to a year ago.
Of course, new terms and conditions have been foisted upon teachers since last February. Many councils told TESS that this was one of their main areas of savings; it appears to have spared councils from making hard decisions elsewhere.
It's easy to be sceptical second time round when someone like Highland's finance director Derek Yule warns that "significant savings" will have to be found in 2013-14. This time, though, it is bound to be true.
It only takes a little scratching beneath the surface to reveal that there are deep fissures in education budgets this year.
By far the biggest expense in education is teacher salaries, stressed John Stodter, general secretary of education directors' body ADES. Since the local authorities gave the government a guarantee in the last teachers' agreement that teacher numbers would not fall below 51,131, "you can see how budget reductions are limited".
But he added that "large numbers" of support staff had been cut, including those at council headquarters, and warned: "Any non-statutory services are vulnerable - community learning and development, outdoor education, music provision etc - and it may well be that further cuts are ahead following local government elections."
A stable budget was a budget cut in real terms, underlined AHDS general secretary Greg Dempster, whose union represents senior management in primary schools. Non-teaching posts were not protected, and as they disappeared there would be a knock-on effect on teachers.
"Short-term savings on the supply budget may result in greater costs over the piece," said Mr Dempster, who predicts that the stress on promoted staff who fill the gap will lead to more sickness absence.
EIS members were consistently reporting school budgets "pared to the bone", said a spokesman for the teachers' union. While a slowing rate of decline might offer some comfort, this had to be set against "a marked overall decline in education funding over the past few years".
Ken Cunningham, general secretary of secondary heads' body School Leaders Scotland, said: "Even if it is politically expedient, it is good to see attempts to preserve frontline services as well as attempting to address critical unemployment needs.
"However, the constant withering away of other crucial support services like classroom and foreign language assistants and behaviour support, and the continued deprofessionalising of supply teachers will make it very difficult for schools to maintain the `steady as she goes' in the midst of Curriculum for Excellence change."
More teachers and better schools, with no cuts or signs of compulsory job losses. It is not what most people expected to hear in a Scottish council budget statement for 2012-13, particularly after the gloom of this time last year.
The budget for education in East Renfrewshire is remaining as it was - not taking account of inflation - at pound;108.2 million. The wider budget, including areas such as arts, sport and libraries, is rising from pound;112.1 million to pound;113.4 million.
Resources will be used to create 30 teaching posts, mostly in nurseries and the new building for the Isobel Mair special school, while a separate pound;2.9 million from past savings will pay for new sports facilities, including a pound;145,000 proposal to convert a disused swimming pool at Barrhead High into a new dance and drama base, and pound;175,000 to resurface a sports pitch at Mearns Castle High. Woodfarm High will have pound;646,000 to improve PE facilities, and there were will new sports pitches worth pound;600,000 at St Luke's High.
The council credits its good fortune to prudent spending, a rising number of pupils, and a favourable government grant.
Savings will be made in catering, cleaning and janitorial services, as well as an increase in charges for school meals.
While delaying cuts until after the elections is a ploy local authorities are expected to use to hold on to votes, East Renfrewshire has said its education budget is expected to be "the same or better" between now and 2014-15.
The city's long-term approach to financial planning - over five years - was detailed in TESS on 11 November, when it emerged that increasing class sizes and closing two secondaries were likely options in finding more than pound;36 million of savings in education, culture and sport. The only new cut in this month's pound;137 million education budget, which in real terms dropped by pound;1 million, was to reduce training in modern languages for primary teachers (pound;100,000). But Aberdeen will increase the budget for schools in 2012-13 by pound;1 million and commit more investment for the next three years.
Cutting its budget by pound;3.7 million in cash terms to pound;226 million. Savings from a "redesign" of classroom assistant support, a reduction of non- teaching staff, and reducing contract costs for cleaners and caterers.
Education budget of pound;96.9 million and savings of pound;2.4 million, including pound;562,000 from schools' budget. But according to the council "efficiency and naturally-occurring savings" mean school funds will not be affected, other than pound;75,000 cut from staff training. Some pound;380,000 of savings will be central-services reductions, including community learning and development and educational development.
Argyll and Bute:
No savings applied in education and no reduction to schools' devolved budgets. Education budget stands at just under pound;64.7 million. Capital funding for school buildings increased by pound;2.13 million; pound;200,000 found for a youth employment fund.
Education budget pound;181,000 lower, at just over pound;33 million. No savings will come from the devolved schools' budget, but cuts in special education (pound;105,000), pre-5 budget (pound;39,000), school crossings (pound;15,000) and primary schools budget (pound;10,000). The hours of classroom and support assistants will be reduced to save pound;40,000.
Dumfries and Galloway:
Education budget reduced by pound;2.7 million to pound;154 million. Addressing overstaffing in primary schools by shedding 19 full-time equivalent posts will save pound;253,000, 80 per cent through "natural wastagevoluntary means". Other savings: changes to teachers' terms and conditions (pound;948,000); reduction in staff due to falling school rolls (pound;324,000, rising to pound;879,000 in 2014-15); releasing staff through "teacher refresh" scheme (pound;276,000); cutting back on unneeded pre-school provision (pound;130,000); "Removal of historical staffing anomalies" in schools (pound;86,000, rising to pound;296,000 by 2014-15); review of school janitors and school-crossing service (pound;240,000).
Education budget of pound;128.3 million, savings of pound;524,000. There will be a reduction in the devolved budget allocated to the Determined to Succeed programme (pound;200,000). Staffing "efficiencies" equate to pound;200,000 and about 12 full-time equivalent visiting specialists in music and PE will be removed (saving pound;77,000); three full-time music instructor posts will be cut (saving pound;47,000).
Education budget cut by pound;592,000 to pound;98.5 million. Some pound;67,000 cut from devolved schools budget, remainder through not filling posts such as school technician or peripatetic nursery teacher, reorganisation of support teams, and a reduction in "surplus and conserved teachers". Extra pound;400,000 for "full internal painting" of Boclair and Lenzie academies.
Over pound;2 million cut from education budget, set at pound;110.1 million. Almost half to come out of school budgets, with remainder down to a drop in average salary for basic-grade teachers, reduction in secondary management time, and reduction in central administrative support posts.
Education budget of pound;83.2 million, down pound;367,000. With devolved school budgets protected, "significant" savings arise from changes in teachers' terms and conditions.
Total education budget pound;108.2 million - no change (see case study).
Total education budget pound;237 million - no change (see main piece).
Some pound;2.9 million to be saved, cutting education budget to pound;168 million. Major savings in: review of teachers' conditions of service; residential school budgets, and management and central support operations; school buildings and property maintenance. Extra pound;690,000 to an "accelerated youth-employment programme" for up to 80 people, and pound;180,000 for introducing P1-3 nurture groups in up to four schools.
Education budget of pound;320 million, down by about pound;2.28 million. Some pound;500,000 to come out of schools' devolved budgets. Changes in teachers' terms and conditions save pound;747,000, and energy-reduction targets in schools should claw back pound;300,000. Other savings affect directorate's administrative and clerical support (pound;155,000) and janitors (pound;117,000).
Total education budget pound;481.5 million (see main piece).
Savings total pound;2.4 million although overall education budget down by only pound;449,000, to pound;184.4 million. Main areas of saving: secondary school budgets (pound;560,000); removal of requirement for maximum class sizes of 20 in S1-2 maths (pound;511,000); reduction in management time in primary schools (pound;365,000); withdrawal of funding for Plockton School of Traditional Music (pound;317,000); increased charges for music tuition (pound;280,000).
Despite cuts of pound;608,000, overall education budget increased by pound;621,000 to just over pound;79 million. Schools' devolved budgets reduced by pound;367,000. Changes to terms and conditions for supply teachers the main source of savings.
A management review in secondary schools to be main source of savings. While the council says it has not made any direct service cuts in education budget of pound;67.9 million, there will be pound;235,000 of "transformational savings" applied to devolved schools' budgets.
Some pound;1.8 million cut from education budget, set at just over pound;72.3 million. Devolved school budgets reduced by pound;671,000, further savings in central costs (pound;668,000); secondary schools (pound;471,000); additional support needs (pound;428,000).
Education budget of pound;134.8 million is cash-terms reduction of about pound;1.26 million. Main areas of savings: maternity pay (pound;250,000); central staffing (pound;100,000); and better procurement practices for buying school equipment (pound;100,000). Technician services (pound;50,000) and school librarians (pound;30,000) subject to cuts.
Overall revenue budget, set on 9 February, has increased - but will drop in subsequent two years. Council unable to provide information on education budgets, despite several requests. It is known that an extra pound;2.3 million will go to services for vulnerable children. Some pound;1.7 million will be used for the Working for Young People employability programme, which aims to help 5,000 people into work over next three years.
Agreed pound;1.9 million of savings across entire budget on 9 February, having originally anticipated pound;4 million, but allocation for education not decided as TESS went to press.
Perth and Kinross:
Education budget to increase by pound;2.63 million in cash terms to nearly pound;120 million; schools' net devolved budgets increase by pound;87,000. Main areas of savings include: reduction in supply for long-term absence; "partner provider payments" to private nurseries; and grounds maintenance; and loss-making after-school kids' clubs.
Education budget reduced by pound;327,000 to just under pound;152 million. Council has reorganised property maintenance and janitorial services to minimise reductions in education spending. Savings include reduction in salary conservation costs, reduction in SQA expenditure, and a "fruit underspend". Council keen to stress efforts to tackle youth unemployment through a pound;2.5 million programme helping over 2,000 16 to 24-year- olds.
Education budget of pound;83.9 million - pound;968,000 down in cash terms. Council has maintained teacher numbers and not cut devolved schools' budget. Savings: reduction in supply due to changes to teachers' terms and conditions (pound;205,000); cutting study support (pound;124,000); review of passenger transport (pound;125,000); "more effective monitoring" of a PPP contract (pound;100,000).
Education budget set at pound;35.7 million, about pound;1.38 million down. Savings include: implementation of maximum primary class sizes (pound;242,000); changes in national terms and conditions for supply teachers (pound;100,000); reducing all schools' operating budgets (pound;80,000); increasing music instruction fees by 50 per cent to pound;210,000 (pound;24,500).
Core education budget pound;1.5 million down, to pound;93 million. Devolved school budgets cut by pound;500,000. Other savings: "roll-adjustment reductions" (pound;440,000); teachers' pay negotiations (pound;344,475); introduction of 33- period week in 2011-12 (pound;200,00); increase in probationers' class contact time (pound;184,292); 2011-12 review of primary school staffing (pound;150,000); classroom assistants (pound;107,529); "teacher refresh" scheme (pound;100,000); 10 per reduction in the CPD budget (pound;38,000); absence cover budget (pound;37,000).
The budget for primary, secondary and special schools is pound;249.3 million, with savings amounting to just under pound;1.6 million. Total reduction from school budgets is pound;905,000. Savings in: clerical support (pound;258,000, 13 full-time posts); secondary school technicians (pound;180,000, seven full-time posts).
Failed to set budget on scheduled date of 16 February, amid angry scenes as a Labour-Tory alliance blocked the SNP minority administration's plans. A second budget meeting is scheduled today. Budget must be set by the statutory date of 11 March.
Education budget increased by pound;87,000 (actually pound;435,000 down when adjusted for inflation) to just under pound;83 million. Some pound;614,000 taken from the devolved schools' budget. Major savings: "on teachers, due to various restructures" (pound;470,000); clerical services (pound;144,000); pupil transport contract renewal (pound;190,000); restructure of school music services (pound;40,000). There is an extra one-off pound;80,000 for raising attainment, and pound;360,000 for "early years change fund".
A pound;39 million budget represents pound;1.3 million reduction (pound;2.7 million in real terms), although much will be reinvested in the school estate; devolved school budgets similar to previous years. There will be five fewer schools in Lewis and Harris next session, reducing number of staff needed. Posts reduced in severe and complex needs (pound;44,000), learning support (pound;50,000) quality improvement (pound;55,000); IT support (pound;21,000); school security technician (pound;25,000). The pound;25,000 budget for study support scrapped to raise attainment - study leave is being removed and pupils expected to revise in school.
Schools budget of pound;136 million, a net increase of pound;2.8 million. Areas of savings include: nursery provision (pound;473,000); teachers' terms and conditions (pound;438,000); new ways to support early intervention (pound;209,000); and new approaches to pupil support work (pound;179,000).
TESS asked all 32 councils for their education budget, not including arts, culture, sport, wider children's services etc. Figures are not adjusted for inflation, except where stated otherwise
pound;1m - Increase in Aberdeen's schools budget for 2012-13
pound;449,000 - Reduction in Highland's overall education budget
pound;1.26m - Cash-terms cut in North Ayrshire education budget
pound;435,000 - real-terms reduction in West Dunbartonshire's education budget.