Data Systems Help Districts Manage People and Finances

A heightened focus on accountability in today’s highly scrutinized world of education translates into transparency of financial records, accuracy in budgeting, and accountability in personnel statistics. It also means that school business officials are under more pressure than ever to ensure data is accurate, complete, and easy to access.

A school district that shows careful spending of public money has stronger community backing. A district that can demonstrate a need for tax increases after strict analysis and cost-cutting measures gains a more positive response from the community than one that requests an increase without quantifying and qualifying the need.

By using the vast repository of information available in a human resources database, an administrator can determine the district’s“bare bones” budget and add individual items according to needs and wants. Having current data can help districts determine the actual cost of an employee — not just salary, but also the cost of the employee’s medical and health insurance benefits, employer federal and state taxes, matching social security funds, retirement contributions, compensated absences, number of personal days, and stipends. If a school business official can pull these“unrelated” numbers together, a school district has a better understanding of its per-employee costs and can better negotiate such things as contracts and health insurance benefits.

Having this information readily available is also useful when making projections. How much will it cost the district to cover someone’s salary and benefits until retirement? How much will the district have to put aside for compensated absences when employees leave the district in five years, 10 years? Many agencies need these projections to meet present and future retirement requests.

As teachers attend outside continuing education classes, they attain more credits in the retirement system. This information must be passed on to the State Teachers’ Retirement System. Data entered into a human resources software system can be gathered to fulfill this request without imposing additional time or money constraints.

Many school districts face the long and tedious task of recruiting replacements when teachers retire. By maintaining employee retirement information in a database, school district administrators have a better handle on who is up for retirement or what incentives can be offered to some teachers to retire earlier so the district can save money in the long run. With these kinds of data projections, administrators can better plan for these changes and can step up hiring procedures to secure the most qualified teachers at the best possible salary before they are approached by other hiring districts.

When teachers go on an extended leave, that information is available to everyone in the district who must be notified of such a change. Payroll can make the appropriate entries to prevent error or fraud and the personnel department knows that a substitute will be needed, as well as for how long.

On a negotiations level, a central data system is useful during contract renewals which percentage increases are the norm. Negotiators today appear to be using percentage increases that are split across a year. For example, a 3.5 percent increase could be broken down into a two percent increase for the first six months and an additional 1.5 percent increase for the remainder of the year. In this instance, two different salary schedules need to be maintained, making it decidedly difficult to develop projections for subsequent years and also difficult to arrive at the actual cost of the employee for the district. By using the data entered into the human resources database, an administrator simply has to query a salary breakdown. A report is issued that lists all implications of the salary schedule. A full picture of the cost of the employee is available for the district’s use.

Public school education constitutes one of America’s largest industries. School business officials are committed to making their districts more efficient and cost-effective. Given the amount of information required to run a school district and the number of people, agencies, and organizations requesting this information in various reports and forms, it’s time to turn to human resources management systems to help harness and utilize this critical data.

Ronald Bovich is the president of Finance Manager, an East Setauket, New York-based software manufacturer and service provider to more than 300 New York districts.

Reprinted with permission from the December 2006 issue of School Business Affairs, published by the Association of School Business Officials International (ASBO).