When a district wants to implement financial management improvements to all budget owners, how do you ensure that everyone is a team player? How do you make it a priority that every site implement the new procedures? Our district partners provided us with the tips and tricks they use to help those in their school districts take ownership of their budgets with Balance.
School districts are large and complex, and the process of creating and managing their fiscal year budgets is just as complicated. When our district partners implemented Balance, they were confident that we could assist them to manage their budgets; but that only solved half of the challenge. For districts to see the actual value of Balance and get their money’s worth, it was critical that the end users assume financial accountability.
For many districts, the various departments therein may often handle their budgeting needs differently. Some may use spreadsheets while others communicate directly with the central office to manage their spending. Many of our districts have found that the first step in creating financial accountability is to normalize and unify the budgeting procedures amongst each department. To do this, it is vital that the department’s end users not only see but understand the inner workings of their budgets.
Typically, when people hear the word “budget” or think about budgeting, they immediately assume they aren’t going to understand it. Many of our district partners have taken it upon themselves to make budgeting relatable to their staff. One district encouraged their staff to think about it in the same terms as if it were their home budget, helping their staff to see that the underlying principle is the same. ‘You have a certain amount of money, and you have bills to pay and things to buy. Let’s create a plan to get it all done!’
Districts must work diligently to dispel the notion that budgets are foreign or hard to understand.
Other districts have facilitated opportunities for their staff to meet in groups of sites and departments with a member of the budget department, with the goal of making the individual budgets relatable and personal for each team. Speaking with different departments throughout the year in one-on-one settings has dramatically aided many budget owners to take on greater financial accountability.
Many of our district partners expressed that post-launch of Balance, many of their site principals and department leaders were eager to share their excitement and “victory moments” over finally having insight into their expenses and expenditures. Capitalizing on this momentum can get other departments excited about using Balance, owning their budgets, and creating their own “victory moment.”
One district, in particular, created a simple, step-by-step video showing users how to log in and complete basic tasks, like view account transactions, and determine how much of their site is budgeted, encumbered, and available. While videos may not be particularly useful for all districts, many of our partners have seen the importance of creating internal resources to serve as a natural reference point for departments just getting started.
Another district chooses to send regular emails to sites and departments reminding them to log in to Balance and check their budgets. Additionally, they make a concerted effort to monitor the open rates closely, allowing the insights gleaned to shape the subsequent conversations with individual departments and sites. Many districts may be widespread geographically, so sending reminder emails regularly and looking at the open rates is an efficient way to keep the lines of communication open and to gauge how the information is received. If individual departments are reluctant to engage, district administrators can arrange for a time to talk to them and offer support and encouragement.
Remember: It’s all too easy for staff to circumvent adopting new district-wide practices and tools if there is no accountability.
Implementing a district-wide budgeting tool affects many people so keep reasonable expectations about your staff’s ability to adjust to and become acquainted with the new tool. Some districts have set as a goal for year one to get the staff acclimated to accessing and viewing their budgets in Balance. Then, throughout the next school year, they will focus on having the staff participate in the development of their budgets, including their goals, staffing plans, and capital purchases.
Though implementing a new budgeting tool can be a daunting undertaking, many districts report having nearly 40% of their departments checking their budgets regularly in Balance within the first year. With proper training and encouragement, most departments express appreciation over having the ability to view their budgets in real-time and are getting acclimated to overseeing their budgets.
But what about the other 60% who still rely on spreadsheets or one-on-one conversations with the central office to monitor their spending? Be patient and remember to meet your departments where they are. Every department in your district isn’t going to be ready to embrace financial accountability at the same time and with the same zeal. Some may be skeptical and will not fully see the need to adopt Balance. Regular communication, whether via email or over the phone has helped many overcome their hesitation to use Balance.
Additionally, be careful not to minimize or dismiss the challenges individual departments or schools may be undergoing. When encouraging financial accountability, remember that the goal is not to strip your departments of their autonomy; instead, you endeavor to institute a cohesive district-wide practice in developing and understanding your budgets and how they function. Taking this approach has helped to minimize some of the resistance and reluctance felt within some departments of our districts.
The majority of our district partners agree that the mentality of encouraging financial accountability has to start at the top and then filter down through every site and department. It is the responsibility of school districts nationwide to serve their local communities and prove that they are responsible with the resources entrusted to them, whether those resources are the monies funded to schools, or the students they endeavor to serve. Everyone in the district is responsible and should do what they can to maximize student outcomes.
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