In our next installment of our Meet Allovue series, Senior District Partner, Kate Kotaska recalls how her decision to invest in something other than her Wall St. dreams brought about an even greater return for students nationwide.
Hello again, Kate!
How did you get started your career in finance and end up in the public school system in Denver?
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.
With this newfound mission, how did your position evolve during your time with DPS?
In a short amount of time, my responsibilities changed quite a bit. As a new 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 three short years after entering DPS, I was responsible for developing and managing all financial supports and budget allocations for schools and two years after that I had oversight over the entirety of the budget.
Did your work within DPS lead to any notable changes within the district?
Absolutely! In my nine 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 was dedicated to maximizing site-level autonomy in decision making.
In your experience, why is a student-based approach essential to adopt within school districts?
The importance of student and site-based budgeting is two-fold. First, each student has unique needs to achieve educational success. A weighted student formula recognizes these needs and the various costs associated with each student through the use of weights in funding. In addition to the funding formula, the decision making around how dollars are planned should live as close to the school as possible as those are the people who most deeply understand the challenges of the school and its students.
These are not just set it and forget it approaches, however. 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.
How did this mentality affect your approach to your eventual role as Executive Director of Budget and Finance in DPS?
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. Instead, 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 budget.
It seemed like you finally found your groove within DPS and things were running smoothly. Why leave for Allovue?
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 have 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.
What excites you the most about the work you do for districts now while working for Allovue?
What excites me the most is working with the fantastic team at Allovue, coming together to 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.
What is your favorite thing to work on with districts?
I spend a lot of time looking at spending trends across my districts and still asking a lot of “whys” to improve processes and outcomes. I love launch day with my districts when we finally get to put Balance in front of users and see their “ah-ha” moments.
What’s the most challenging part of your job?
Working in the central office for a district can sometimes leave you feeling a bit disconnected from students, and my role here at Allovue takes my work an additional step away from kids. I’ve tried to create new opportunities for myself to foster that connection by volunteering in my own school community and talking one on one with principals whenever I’m on the road visiting my districts.
When you’re not saving the world, one school district at a time, how do you unwind?
I have two amazing children of my own, Abby and Jack that keep me pretty busy. I’m fortunate to live in the beautiful state of Colorado and try to get to the mountains whenever I can for a hike or a day on the slopes.
Kate’s expertise within K-12 school districts is unmatched and we’re so grateful to have her on our team!
Do you have questions for Kate or want to pick her brain about issues facing K-12 districts? Send her an email at Kate@allovue.com.