How ERP Software Smooths the Journey for School Business Officials


District administrators are pushing back on K-12 technology companies to do a better job of connecting the data that schools depend on for everything from security and compliance to reporting and funding. Historically, school business professionals have worked on an island in corporate finance software that requires costly code customizations and supplemental spreadsheets to make it work for education.

At a recent regional ASBO conference, we heard tons of questions about how to get HR better aligned with Finance and Payroll departments for compensation like steps, stipends, grades, and supplementals, as well as benefits administration. It came as a surprise to some, but comprehensive ERP software systems aren’t just for the corporate world anymore!

Here are a few main reasons that school business professionals are turning to software that is purpose built for K-12.

You wear multiple hats

In the school business office, you could have any number of responsibilities — transportation, food services, facilities, state reporting, accounts payable, risk management, payroll, requisitions, budgeting, reconciliations, even managing Human Resources matters. Needless to say, you likely wear a lot of hats. One moment you’re wearing a baseball cap, keeping score of district finances. Then, next thing you know, someone’s knocking at your door asking you to switch gears and put on a cowboy hat and round up some paperwork for them.

That can make it difficult to stay focused and get things done.

Research has found that mentally juggling multiple tasks leads to cognitive overload, with the end result of decreased productivity and memory impairment. But the work needs to get done, and you’re the one who has to do it. Chances are, there’s no room in the budget to hire enough staff to truly ease the burden. So, what’s a busy, multiple-hat-wearing school business official to do?

It all comes down to reducing the number of mental shifts and switches you need to perform in a day. If possible, block off time to work on one thing at a time. But if that’s not possible, don’t despair! Every little bit counts.

Making a positive change could mean taking steps as simple as consolidating your software systems so you don’t have to deal with invoices from as many vendors, and don’t have to log in and out of a dozen systems, all with different password requirements. The more you can move toward using one integrated platform, and away from several smaller point solutions, the better off you’ll be. For example, you may want to consider a comprehensive ERP solution that lets you manage Payroll, Finance and Human Resources all in one place.

You need a reliable paper trail

There are plenty of things to worry about in the school business office. Like shrinking (or stagnant) budgets, audits, fines for noncompliance, bad PR — the list goes on and on. It’s imperative that there’s solid documentation for everything that happens in the office. You never know when you might need to double-check which staff member entered data into a system (and when), or who updated an invoice or approved a requisition. Otherwise, you could end up with overdue invoices or necessary supplies not getting to classrooms that need them.

But you don’t necessarily want all of that documentation to take the forms of, well, documents. After all, you have more than enough paperwork floating around already!

A good ERP system will ensure that every action taken in the software is logged and timestamped. And remember — these records won’t do you much good if you can’t see them without specifically requesting them from the vendor and waiting for their developers to export the log. Look for software that not only keeps a record of all the actions taken by users, but also makes it easy for you to access the information you need, when you need it.

You need to stick with budgets and district policy

So much of the work you engage in demands accuracy. That often translates to feeling like you’re constantly updating spreadsheets and trying to keep everyone in the loop.

When all the data you’re working with is in real-time across HR, Finance and Payroll it finally feels attainable to stay in compliance and still be nimble. And that’s what a comprehensive ERP does for business office folks who are juggling budget and district policy — but only when it’s purpose built for K-12 school districts!

Districts that use ERP software made for the needs of schools can process all the unique demands of district budget and policy natively without resorting to the costly code customizations needed for generic corporate systems. Business office professionals embed approval workflows, and automated rules and conditions that head off overspending and noncompliance for everything from hiring and professional development to travel and assets.

Just think about all the time you gain from not having to endlessly reinforce budget and policy regulations when your district ERP software handles all of the rules and reminders for you.

You can’t afford to waste time 

And that brings us to our final point — time is at a premium in the school business office. You have enough to do, without having to deal with all the back-and-forth that comes with inefficient manual processes.

All the time management tips and tricks in the world won’t help you get everything done if you don’t have the information you need to cross a task off of your to-do list.

It’s frustrating when you’re constantly taking time out of your day to chase people down when forms weren’t completed correctly (or at all) or waiting on others to get information to you. And in the meantime, you have deadlines to meet and a mountain of work to get through.

This is really where an ERP system can shine: saving you time in getting work done, easing communication between departments and making sure that data is accurate.

But here’s the catch: your software system should work for you, not against you.

One-size-fits-all software meant for the corporate world just isn’t made for the nuances of K-12, and you might end up spending more time working around the system than you ought to. Look for a configurable ERP system made specifically for K-12 education that gives access to real-time data, and you’ll be on your way to Time Savings Central. (That’s not a real place, but if it was, we would buy you a ticket there today.)

Nichelle Smith

Nichelle Smith is a Product Marketing Manager for Frontline Education. With her Master's degree in Education and being a former educator, Nichelle loves to explore all things "edtech"!

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