best practices for improving k-12 school business processes and workflow

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  • The great paradox of education in the 21st century is that while expectations and enrollments have dramatically increased, public funding for educational institutions has stalled and fragmented. As a result, school leaders have had no choice but teach themselves how to operate like a business. In addition to their educational goals, schools must also apply best practices for securing new sources of funding, tightly controlling their costs and attracting the best talent in a competitive environment.

    The independent Center for Budget and Policy Priorities reported in 2016 that most states provide less support per student for elementary and secondary schools -- in some cases, much less -- than before the Great Recession.

    Their investigation revealed that in 31 states, funding for state schools has reached a level lower than it was in 2008. In about half of those states, the cuts went deeper than 10 percent. That has become a huge handicap because 46 percent of K-12 spending comes directly out of state funding. To compensate, the number of public K-12 teachers and other school workers has fallen by 297,000 since 2008. Yet, the number of students over that same period has grown by 804,000.

    How are schools achieving better results for more students using fewer resources? For leading districts and schools across the nation, both public and private, the answer has been a combination of applied business management strategies and advanced technology.

    This paper presents insights uncovered over the past decade and a half on how to run a school or district more efficiently, with closer parent-teacher-administration collaboration and with greater protections for data privacy.

    Introduction pg. 2


  • Its hard to blame them because adults also hate administrative paperwork that tends to take them off task. Its ironic that the growing importance of computers to society over the past 60 years has been matched at each advance with a commensurate decrease in productivity at K-12 schools. How is that possible? Two key factors at work.

    The first has nothing to do with computers but everything to do with the demands on school administration. A study commissioned by the Center for the Study of American Business at Washington University reported that there were only five full-time equivalent (FTE) public school employees on average for every 100 students in 1950. Since then, the number of teachers hired has grown by 252 percent while the number of administrative staff has grown 702 percent. Multiple levels of oversight and reporting responsibilities have brought a greater appetite for statistics, metrics, assessments and communications. In other words, a great deal of paperwork.The second factor has everything to do with computers in that they brought greater data collection and analysis capabilities under administrative control. First with mainframes and then with personal computers, schools and school districts have slowly gained massive processing power.

    Beyond the storage and retrieval of paperwork generated by student measurement and teacher management, school administration has been tasked by trustees and school boards to seek out improved process efficiencies, generate budgeting proposals, summarize critical financial statistics and verify compliance. In other words, even more paperwork.

    Kids dont like homework. Thats a fact.

    01. The Struggle With Paper pg. 4

  • Although a paperless office has often been touted as a goal for many organizations, the reality of public data gathering and collaborative decision-making requires the exchange of a vast amount of paper, both inside the school and in reaching out to the public.

    Today, administrative processes built around paper school forms are still the most common form of record-keeping and management for K-12 schools. Clearly, its because they are inexpensive and easily portable, and additionally, justifying IT investment can be tricky. The downside is that paper-based processes clog up administrative systems. Working based on paper forms can be slow, boring and impossible to analyze in aggregate.

    Processing, filing, relocating, tracking and transferring the information on paper forms is labor intensive. In recent years, digitization of this workflow has grown to be one the biggest areas where schools have found cost and productivity improvements.

    01. The Struggle With Paper pg. 5

  • New technology allows individual schools or entire districts to automate forms such as those below and reduce paperwork:

    New hire packets and onboarding paperwork Personnel action and requisitions Travel and conference requests Mileage and general reimbursement requests Student registration Multiple levels of approvals Field trip requests Acceptable use policies Time sheets

    The second layer of value in automating this data instead is that it makes it far easier to make better strategic decisions based on a wide range of metrics, benchmarks and key performance indicators (KPIs). Top schools have stayed on top by devoting the necessary time and resources to collecting, maintaining and analyzing this data. However, too many schools must operate with minimal funding and administrative staffing. In the past, there wasnt an easy way to collate the data and generate reports that administrators needed most to help the school board and trustees solve their most pressing challenges.

    In 2016, technology is falling in price and raising its processing power to put these capabilities within reach for schools of all sizes, all across the nation.

    The following is a detailed look at what KPIs schools are using right now to course correct and how digitization has impacted strategy.

    01. The Struggle With Paper pg. 6


  • The sheer volume of students, the impacts of poverty on student behavior, the stress on city services, heightened media attention, conflicting inputs on security measures and the teacher talent deficit represent only a few pieces of this complicated picture.

    For those reasons, the real-world management decisions of city schools can be instructive for all kinds of schools: public, private, independent, magnet, charter and many more. As a public service to educators, the Council of the Great City Schools launched the Performance Measurement and Benchmarking Project and published their results in 2015.

    The report is a vital piece of intelligence with three goals: To establish a common set of key performance indicators (KPIs) in

    a range of school operations, including business services finances, human resources and technology

    To use these KPIs to benchmark and compare the performance of the nations largest urban public school systems

    To improve operational performance in urban public schools

    The fourth, unstated goal is to act as a framework for schools in other environments as they begin to face some of the same problems.They have broken down their compendium of data on school performance into 12 categories based on more than 150 KPIs. These metrics are broken down into 12 categories of KPIs inside 3 functional areas:

    Urban public school districts face intense challenges that go beyond education.

    02. How Schools and Districts Should Define Their KPIs

    pg. 8

  • 1. Accounts Payable2. Financial/Cash Management3. Compensation4. Grants Management5. Procurement6. Risk Management7. Food Services

    8. Maintenance and Operations9. Safety and Security10. Transportation11. Human Resources12. Information Technology

    Here is an overview of the most important questions answered by each category of KPIs. This can guide each individual school or district in defining which KPIs should be their immediate concern.

    A. Budgeting and Finance Control

    B. Business Services

    C. Resource Development

    02. How Schools and Districts Should Define Their KPIs

    pg. 9

  • A. Budgeting and Finance Control

    02. How Schools and Districts Should Define Their KPIs

    pg. 10

  • 02. How Schools and Districts Should Define Their KPIs

    pg. 11

    These KPIs can also clearly outline budgeting success or failures. Set up a metric for Expenditure efficiency and Revenue efficiency. What is being measured here is how close adopted and final budgets end up compared to posted income minus spending. Districts should aim at a full 1/1 ratio.

    In terms of speed of decision-making, look at the total number of days required to prepare and publish the annual report. This trend line tells you how quickly the district can make its financial disclosures.

    Financially healthy districts are built on strong leadership and governance. Review school board and administrative policies/ procedures that encourage tighter budget development. Management workflow processes should not restrict fund balancing. Make sure there is a clear definition of operating fund use policies.

    Cash management may be the most critical task for financial health. Intelligent, well-controlled cash-flow starts with KPIs for the total number of months under target liquidity and the short-term loans / $100K in district revenue.

    Measures that look at investment yield include Investment Earnings /$100K Revenue and Investment Earnings as Percent of Cash/Investment Equity.

  • Use the following KPIs as flags to indicate spending trends that can be risky for cash management:

    Changes in revenue inflows Changes in expenditure outflows Difference in projected to actual cash flows In addition, do not forget to do the fol


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