When Christopher Wildman was hired as the new chief financial officer at North Shore School District 112 (D112) in July 2016, the district was in the midst of a plan to close four schools due to falling enrollment and the need to cut ongoing capital costs to maintain 12 buildings. The decision to close schools was overturned several months later, however this reversal gave District 112 and its business office the opportunity to plan and build processes to support a future reconfiguration of the district.
How did North Shore end up in such a difficult situation? Although the district had put in place a strategic plan and related five year projections, there wasn’t a sustainable long-term strategy in place for many of their financial processes. More specifically, the district struggled with monthly financial oversight, cash handling, and embracing paperless processes. Furthermore, District 112 had not conducted a zero-based process for several years.
Although North Shore had already implemented Skyward’s School Business Suite, they hadn’t capitalized on many of the system’s key features to enhance operations. Fortunately, Wildman had previously worked at other districts that used Skyward, where he experienced first-hand how investing in a dependable ERP solution can improve a district’s business office. “I’m a huge fan of Skyward,” stated Wildman. “I think it’s very powerful and whenever I talk to colleagues, I advocate strongly that Skyward is a product you can accomplish a lot with.”
By investing in a phased implementation of Skyward’s School Business Suite and committing to strengthened processes, North Shore began to address the culture of paper processing, optimizing their budget, reducing costs, and improving efficiency.
"WE USE SKYWARD TO HELP US STRENGTHEN AND BUILD [OUR] PROCESSES. IT'S NOT ABOUT REINVENTING THE WHEEL."
The first step towards modernizing D112’s business office involved examining how the district analyzed financial information and made decisions. With Skyward’s Budgeting feature, the district pushed forward with monthly budget reports that allowed the district to make more strategic decisions, alongside the traditional cash possession reporting.
Having a system that could effectively track and report key information was just as important to the district’s operations. “It’s garbage in and garbage out if you don’t data mine and you don’t run the right reports,” stated Wildman. “Skyward allows our district to look at this month’s data, helping us create our first zero-based budget next year. That then also ties into our five-year projection.”
With up-to-date budgets finally available, D112 invested in establishing financial oversight with key stakeholders. “Since being here, I have really stressed the need for the Board of Education, community and department leaders to know where we are in our budget,” emphasized Wildman. With newfound transparency, D112 has collected support for budgetary decisions, allowing real conversations to take place about the past, present, and future of their financial operations.
Beyond improving transparency and building support for budgetary decisions, the business office also made connections throughout the district that sprouted new ideas. “I try to maintain a schedule of interdepartmental meetings. I meet monthly with the principals, Human Resources, Technology, and Buildings and Grounds departments, for example,” said Wildman. “We collaboratively ask questions of our current processes and where we need to improve, then we use Skyward to help us strengthen and build those processes. It’s not about reinventing the wheel.”
In fact, one of the most significant benefits that resulted from D112’s streamlined fiscal operations is their cash handling strategy. Before utilizing Skyward, the district used 12 separate bank accounts, one for each individual school, and used a third-party provider to account for activity within each school.
Now, all the district’s accounts have been consolidated into a new fund as part of Skyward’s School Business Suite, and the 12 bank accounts have been closed. Accordingly, sub-accounts have been created within the main account, allowing cash handling processes to be completed through Skyward’s School-Based Activity Accounting solution.
“That’s 12 accounts that don’t need to be reconciled every month and 12 accounts that don’t need to be monitored by 12 people,” explained Wildman. “It’s just one fund that can be tracked by one accountant versus 12 people – now that’s a real time saver.”
"IT'S ABOUT STEPS. IF YOU CAN REDUCE THE NUMBER OF STEPS, YOU REDUCE THE AMOUNT OF ERRORS."
Much of D112’s long-term plan has relied on going paperless to reduce the number of steps in financial processes. “It’s about steps. If you can reduce the number of steps, you reduce the amount of errors,” explained Wildman. “From an operations standpoint, if something takes 10 steps, that’s 10 times you can mess up. If it only takes 3 steps, you only have 3 times to mess up.”
One of the most important steps to going paperless is eliminating paper timesheets. With nurses and building and grounds staff already using True Time successfully, D112 is eagerly awaiting the start of their fall semester, when all employees will use automated timekeeping. “Department leaders have been very positive about the switch to True Time because of its accessibility,” said Wildman. “With paper, leaders may forget to sign the paper on time, meaning an individual doesn’t get paid on time, which isn’t fair. Now, they get notifications in real time, creating accountability.”
Additionally, D112 is striving to reduce the use of paper in their requisition, purchasing, invoice, and reimbursement processes. “We have really flipped the paradigm,” stated Wildman. “We spend thousands of dollars on paper. It’s wasteful, it goes missing, and it’s not efficient to send paper back and forth between schools when the same process can be done in real time with Skyward’s solutions,” stated Wildman.
So, what does the future hold for a district that’s been successful in modernizing its business office? “We want to continue what we’ve started. I expect us to be on this trajectory for the next few years,” noted Wildman. In fact, as D112 achieves consistency and solidifies its processes, Wildman hopes that the district will transition to Skyward’s Qmlativ system with the first wave of Illinois districts.
For districts looking to modernize their business culture, Wildman has strong advice. “They need to think about their underlying processes, cultural issues with paper, and the capacity of the staff to be able to effectively use a solution like Skyward,” explained Wildman. “If a district successfully commits to that cultural shift, then Skyward is a great and powerful tool to achieve efficiency and effectiveness.”
Overall, North Shore School District 112’s continued and ongoing investment in Skyward’s School Business Suite transformed its business operations to establish streamlined processes and a more collaborative culture.
Follow-up resource: School Business Suite
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