In 2006, I started my career as a Budget Technician for Denver Public Schools (DPS). Unlike so many others in school district offices who had clear paths to their work in K-12 education, “Budget Technician” wasn’t the role I had sketched out in my life’s plan, and it was a far cry from the other Wall Street finance jobs I had been interviewing for after graduating college outside New York City. What I found upon entering Denver Public Schools was an incredibly talented group of people seeking transformational change and fully dedicated to the mission that “Every Child Succeeds”. It was not long before that mission became my mission.
Supporting Financial Management in a District
As a member of the finance team, I adopted the “5 Whys” protocol and asked a lot of questions about processes and policies. My inquisitive nature and drive for change propelled me through the ranks in Financial Services as I sought improvements. After just 3 short years after entering DPS, I was responsible for developing and managing all financial supports and budget allocations for schools and 2 years after that I had oversight over the entirety of the budget.
In my 9 years working in and leading a team within the Financial Services office, I witnessed, and at times led, dramatic shifts in practice across all facets of the organization. Teachers were teaching differently, principals were leading differently, students were being transported across the city in innovative ways, parents were selecting schools for their children through a unified choice process, and most importantly, the practice of resource allocation for schools moved to a student-based approach that is dedicated to maximizing site-level autonomy in decision making.
School principals and department leaders are often expected to act as CEOs and manage multi-million dollar budgets, and sometimes hundreds of employees, so appropriate supports are necessary to ensure that they can be as successful in this endeavor as they are in driving educational outcomes for students.
As the Executive Director of Budget and Finance, I did not believe my role was to make finite decisions about how to how to allocate resources. Rather, my goal was to ensure that staff had the appropriate information and supports in place to make informed decisions themselves. As such, I spent much of my time trying to deeply understand the unique nature of the multitude of micro-businesses within the district and tailoring financial supports to meet the distinct needs of all those involved in building and managing a $1.6 billion dollar budget.
After announcing my transition to Allovue, the question I’ve been asked most frequently is, “After 9 years, why are you leaving a school district?” Like many, I wasn’t looking for a new role; the new role found me. After meeting Allovue founder Jess Gartner and members of her team while speaking at a conference, I was intrigued by Allovue’s approach to financial support known as #edfintech and excited about what their product, Balance, could do for leaders in all districts. The Senior District Partner role presents an incredible opportunity to leverage my skills in budget, finance and stakeholder support, but on a much larger scale than is possible in a single district. I’ve been given the opportunity to tackle the challenges of resource allocation and school finance through the lens of many districts, each with their own unique set of challenges and opportunities.
I couldn’t be more excited about working for Allovue and with this amazing team as we support dedicated individuals in school districts all across the western region. We build together, we learn together, and we grow together with student success always at the forefront.
About the Author
Kate Kotaska is a Senior District Partner for Allovue, Inc. Prior to joining Allovue, Kate spent the majority of her career in Denver Public Schools shaping the district’s resource allocation model and building a backbone of financial support known as the Financial Partner Network. Kate earned her undergraduate degree from Pace University in Pleasantville, NY.