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Managing Growth at Southwest ISD

Brandon Crisp, the Assistant Superintendent of Business & Finance, relies on Frontline ERP to keep up with the accelerating demands of a rapidly growing school district.

At a Glance:

San Antonio, Texas
K-12 Enrollment
Annual Budget
$185 million

Frontline Solutions Used:

Frontline ERP

If you drive around Southwest Independent School District, one of the first things you’ll notice is the amount of new construction. An area that once was dominated by farmland is now seeing significant development, and in the next 5-7 years, the district forecasts an additional 2,500 students enrolling. Assistant Superintendent of Business & Finance Brandon Crisp is not blind to the challenges that come with that. “People think, ‘Let’s get more enrollment, that’s great.’ But then there are expenditures on that side. I have to have staff for that. That’s our biggest challenge, maintaining staff, managing staff.”

Continuing to offer robust programs like athletics, a terrific fine arts program, and numerous Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs — point of pride: the district is currently applying for FAA approval for an airplane students built this year — also requires facilities and other resources. Currently, Brandon is planning for their next school bond as they prepare to add several new schools and upgrade others to accommodate the growth.

Living in Spreadsheets

Overseeing the business and finance department, and collaborating with so many directors, administrators, and department heads, not to mention budgeting and working with HR on staffing, requires the right systems — something Brandon didn’t have when he entered the role. “When I inherited it, we did staffing on Excel sheets. We were staffing 2,000 employees with Excel, and if I had a custodian leave one of my high schools, I had to physically make sure I put them on the ‘To Hire’ list on another Excel sheet to make sure that I put them in the budget, because our old system didn’t do that. It was about persons and people, not the position.”

Every summer, Brandon would sit down with HR and Payroll and go line by line through their staffing budget. It would take about a week to ensure every person’s salary was included in the budget.

Adding new employees was a chore for the Finance and HR offices for 80 or 90 new employees every year. Adding a position, or approving a position change on a campus, was done on paper, traveling a labyrinth of approvals via snail mail. Errors, such as an incorrect budget account code, further complicated things. “It just takes a mountain to move, and we were losing employees. By the time they would get processed and we would call, somebody else had hired them.” After someone was hired, Brandon then had to log into seven different systems to get employees set up with the right access.

“We were losing employees. By the time they would get processed and we would call, somebody else had hired them.”

And, of course, budgeting was done in Excel as well, as Brandon sent out spreadsheets to every campus to fill out and return, at which point someone would enter it into their system. “At the same time, I had 11 other departments I was neglecting. Many of us were working extended hours to keep up with the demand.”

A Change Was Needed

Brandon reached out to the providers of the ERP system they were using at the time. He was looking for something that would help him manage positions, not people. “I was really interested in finding something different for position management. Because I love Excel — but not for running 2,000 employees and building lists for every campus.”

He wanted something that would integrate with HR, a system that would connect Finance and HR so that when an employee left the district, the position — with its correct account code and place in the budget — would remain and connect all the way to the school level and even to the master schedule.

Their ERP vendor couldn’t deliver, and Brandon said the decision to choose a new provider was a turning point. “It was a mindset change for everybody. How can we be more efficient? How can we be more accountable? How can we get simple?”

“How Can We Be Efficient, Accountable, and Simple?”

Brandon and his team did their due diligence. They reached out to other school districts, visited and watched how their processes worked. Those districts were astonished that Southwest ISD was still using Excel to process so many employees. Ultimately, the district selected Frontline ERP.

“Actually, when we brought in Frontline, we saved money. We took all the software systems [we were using] and put them all on paper to see what we were paying. And then we brought in Frontline. I was like, ‘Man, we’re going to save $40,000 by going to Frontline.’”

“When we brought in Frontline, we saved money.”

A New Way of Working

Choosing Frontline gave Brandon and his team — and the departments they work with — a massive boost.

  • Efficiency and Simplicity

    Paper documents no longer got lost under stacks on people’s desks. And those labyrinthine workflows? They’re now faster and shorter. “We were able to get rid of people in workflows who didn’t need to be in those workflows anymore. When you gave a document to somebody, it was going to secretaries and clerks who didn’t need it — they were just a transporter. It hit 10 people before it reached the final destination. [With Frontline’s workflows] it goes straight from the principal to the main clerk who needs to process it, to the HR director, to me.”

  • Accountability

    Frontline ERP also helps Brandon make sure every position is coded to the right account. If a campus needs another employee to work with dyslexic students, they must document that on the campus improvement plan the state requires and must also match Southwest’s budget with the proper account codes. “It helps us connect our accountability not only for outcomes for students, but for our own internal audit and our audit that we get from TEA or from the federal government on our use of funds.”

    With the position management functionality in Frontline ERP, if a position is moved around on a campus, Brandon no longer wonders if the principal has double-checked the account codes, because the system keeps a clean record. “We have a lot of different account codes for teachers and special staff. On that Excel sheet, I would have to separate those groups of teachers and those interventionists with separate codes, and now the system does that for us. When a campus interventionist leaves, that position stays there along with the account code that’s funding that position. It has cleaned that up for us.”

    “That’s where accountability comes in, because the state and federal governments are giving these funds, but if you’re not spending them, they take them back — they don’t let you keep them.”

  • Time Freed Up, and Fewer Mistakes

    Brandon now has more time for high-impact work. Summer is always the busiest time: creating the budget, staffing, and getting schools ready for next year. But with Frontline ERP, he can spend more time with leaders throughout the district. “Now I’m able to go to campuses, visit with principals, get into the weeds of what their needs are and understand them a little bit better than just, ‘Here’s your budget, good luck, because I don’t have time to work with you.’”

    That’s largely because he no longer feels like he must do everything himself, since the system ensures that data is entered correctly. “Now with Frontline, you can’t really make mistakes with it. You can’t create a new position and get it budgeted without a process, without a workflow.”

    Plus, he doesn’t accidentally leave positions out of the budget. Previously, he would go over the budget with a fine-toothed comb, double-checking that every position was included. “My job was on the line. I can’t go back to the board and say, ‘Hey, you just passed a budget for the year, but I was $2 million short because I left out 20 teachers.’ Who wants to have that conversation in a public meeting?” Frontline ERP helps him ensure that a situation like that never happens.

  • Saving Money as the District Grows

    Brandon said, “As the finance person and the budget person working with staff, I think we’ve saved hundreds of thousands of dollars in staff that we possibly would have had to add. As you add all these extra staff, with the workload in our old system our HR people would have been like, ‘We need more help. We’re drowning.’”

    Over the next 5 years or so, the district may grow by a few thousand students. That would also mean adding 600-700 new employees. With Frontline ERP, they can handle that volume without adding a lot of additional back-office staff. “I think we’ve saved money not only by getting rid of all those other systems, but in staff, too, that have to do all this work. We could digitize it all. It’s right there at your fingertips, at the push of a button.”

  • The Mission of Education

    Ultimately, a school business office exists to serve the mission of education. Brandon sees a clear line between the work that he does using Frontline ERP and serving students. It helps him ensure that teachers, custodians, food service personnel, and bus drivers are paid on time. With accurate employee data, principals can quickly see which current employees have the required certification for an open position, rather than asking HR to dig through employee files. And, “It helps our academic teams on campuses to build their master schedules, because they don’t have to go through hoops to figure out exactly who’s on their staff. They’re connected, they’ve got everything they need.”

As Southwest ISD continues to build, add students, and add staff, Brandon and his team will rise to meet each new day, and Frontline ERP will be there to support them. “Our journey with Frontline has been great. The people that I’ve worked with, with boots on the ground who have been in our district and the people we call on, they always go above and beyond.”

About Frontline Education

Frontline Education is a leading provider of school administration software, connecting solutions for student and special programs, business operations and human capital management with powerful analytics to empower educators. Frontline partners with school systems to deliver tools, data and insights that support greater efficiency and productivity, enabling school leaders to spend more time and resources executing strategies that drive educator effectiveness, student success and district excellence.

Frontline’s broad portfolio includes solutions for proactive recruiting and hiring, absence and time management, professional growth, student information systems, special education, special programs, Medicaid reimbursement, school health management, inventory control and asset management, payroll, benefits and financial management, and analytics solutions that help district leaders tap into their data to make more informed decisions for the benefit of their students and communities. Over 10,000 clients representing millions of educators, administrators and support personnel have partnered with Frontline Education in their efforts to develop the next generation of learners.

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