How District Leaders Can Address Challenges with the Power of Analytics
In today’s K-12 landscape, school leaders face a host of challenges that seem to have only been exacerbated since the pandemic. Ongoing barriers to a quality education workforce, interrupted learning and widening academic gaps, increased social emotional need, inequitable access to opportunity, uncertain stimulus-boosted budgets and heightened pressure to demonstrate meaningful growth and change are just a handful of important strategies that remain top of mind for school leaders as they work to establish, measure, and refine plans that will positively impact student outcomes.
As a way to combat these challenges, many school leaders rely on data to guide the planning process. Data usage within K-12 really runs the gamut, from districts reviewing stock reports at the highest level all the way to Chief Financial Officers drilling down into financial granularity on a daily basis. And while many school districts may be rich with data, they oftentimes find themselves wading through piles of information, lacking strategic insights that could help to establish benchmarks, accelerate planning, and guide decision-making.
The Role of Analytics
Analytics can change all that and have the potential to significantly impact how we manage and deliver education by identifying efficiencies, targeting financial and student-focused opportunities, and ensuring teacher quality, among other things. Specifically for financial leaders, leveraging easy-to-use yet sophisticated analytics tools can easily examine and analyze data to determine how things are trending, and where they are going, while also having the ability to provide evidence-based, digestible reporting to stakeholders within a district.
Stock accounting system reports are often too difficult for stakeholders to understand. Having data analytics systems in place enable the CFO to quickly provide easy-to-read and understand reports with the click of a button.
Providing a multi-year forecast is imperative to determining the path to maintaining a district’s fiscal stability. Financial Analytics solutions help districts efficiently build annual budgets and multi-year projections and model scenarios and future impacts to increase transparency and ensure their budget stays on track despite the impact of COVID-19. As important, a forecast rooted in data and analytics can help protect a district from the impact of unstable or unsustainable revenue sources, such as ESSER funding. While a district may have the cash to afford something in the near term, how will it impact the long-term budget of the district? What revenue streams will the district need to support the operations of the district? How can a district easily model different scenarios and illustrate the financial impact?
The visual above illustrates how school districts can use data analytic systems to quickly analyze the impact specific financial decisions will have on the fiscal stability of a school district. In this case, the visual is showing the property millage needed to overcome the projected budget shortfall.
Budget and financial analytics will certainly help to contribute to a well-thought-out, comprehensive plan. As financial leaders conduct the financial planning and monitoring process, whether it be monthly, quarterly, or annually, it may also be helpful to assess how one school district stands in comparison to another based on common districts characteristics such as size, location, or demographics. By studying comparisons and identifying contrasts, school leaders can develop a deep understanding of contrasting performance and variations at the district and school level, which may reveal new insights that drive new decisions.
Having the ability to quickly select, filter and visualize data enables school districts to gain valuable insight. The graphic above shows how a school district can quickly inquire about the compensation levels of their staff in relation to other school districts in their area.
Analytics in Action
Analytics tools provide school leaders with the ability to see and understand macro and micro indicators, and also provide access to historical content as a way of evaluating past, current, and future trends.
Bill Wade, Chief Financial Officer at Mentor Schools in Ohio, recently adopted analytics in his organization to help set and drive strategy. Using financial, budget, and comparative analytics, the newly appointed CFO was able to establish a formal budgeting system that would address the organization’s short-term needs, but also help to maintain long-term fiscal stability. Wade has become an avid user of the analytics platforms, relying on some of the tools, such as forecasting and scenario reporting, on a weekly-to-monthly basis to support budgetary decision-making and to increase communications transparency with the Board and community.
Wade commented,“Working with Frontline Analytics has empowered me to understand our budget and spending behaviors so we can make informed decisions for the betterment of our schools. The data allows us to see what is on track, what we can and cannot control, and most importantly, how to be more efficient so our operations are sound and have the ability to thrive. Frontline’s Analytics platforms are easy to use, help school leaders evaluate data in an efficient matter, and the reporting is digestible and compelling for all audiences. There’s also a tremendous amount of advisory and professional development that comes along with the tools. I can’t imagine being able to do my job successfully without the support of data and analytics.”
Why School Leaders Should Embrace Analytics
Nuances in K-12 education make it hard for districts to adopt the larger or more generic analytics tools. This can be a barrier to entry for many districts that don’t have the resources or know-how to manage complex data systems. It’s important to use tools designed specifically to manage K-12 data. Having the ability to use data in the manner in which a school needs, with the click of one or two buttons to preview trend data, make projections, and produce professional, visually compelling reports, is invaluable. Analytics tools help to automate processes around the financial activity of a district, which should ultimately help to increase efficiencies so leaders can continue to focus on strategic initiatives that benefit students.
Automated visuals, like the one above, easily allow the CFO to determine how their current projected cash flow is trending in relation to the forecast last approved by the BOE. It also allows the CFO to determine what further revenue and expense areas they may need to research.
Reprinted with permission from the Ohio School Boards Association.
Ryan Ghizzoni is a Director of Analytics at Frontline Education.