As you already know, school districts are responsible for collecting and reporting on a monumental amount of information. Everything from hiring and retirement data, to where funding is coming from, to if the money is being allocated and spent appropriately, is tracked across each district. And, how that information is tracked varies greatly from district to district.
Depending on the size of the district, some schools (if they’re small enough) might be able to get away with Excel spreadsheets and paper processes. But if you’ve ever tried, you know how quickly it can become unwieldy to manually track, process, manage and validate loads of rapidly-changing information.
Data management is no walk in the park, and it’s more important than ever that district administrators have the right software and systems in place to stay in compliance without roadblocks and red tape bringing everything to a halt. So, is there a better way?
Yes! One strategy districts are using to stay nimble while adhering to local, state and federal policies is implementing school ERP software. With the right technology, leaders can automate critical workflows across departments – plus embed robust data validation tools into daily processes for HR, Finance and Payroll.
What is ERP Software and what can it do for your district?
Enterprise resource planning (ERP) software helps organizations manage their business operations more efficiently. Although each vendor is different, these systems generally help automate what have historically been considered “back office” functions — all with the intention of saving time, and therefore money. After all, time is money, or so the saying goes.
That includes functions like finances, procurement, human resources, and so forth. And for organizations not in K-12, it’s common for ERP software to include modules for marketing, product management or development. It can be challenging to “turn off” major functions like these in a system designed for corporate processes often resulting in pricey customizations to hide functional areas and buttons that aren’t relevant to schools. As opposed to using school district ERP software that is created with K-12 specific workflows in mind.
By managing HR, finance and payroll operations online in one system, rather than many, you can gain insight into where your resources are going, and what opportunities may exist to cut down on unnecessary expenses. There’s no more having to waste time trying to find paper-based records from another department, or scratching your head wondering how all the different moving pieces fit together.
But ERP software isn’t just for the corporate world. More and more educational organizations are turning to this kind of system to support district-wide processes.
Now, as a school district, you don’t have to worry about many of the aspects that traditional ERP software supports: you don’t have a product to develop or manufacture or sell, and your goal isn’t commercial profit. But school districts are short on time and resources, and that’s where an ERP system can really make an impact.
By tracking and managing many aspects of your district’s operations electronically, you can:
- Save hours spent managing financial and personnel-related tasks
- Identify where funding is needed most, and where costs can be saved
- Plan ahead for future school years and allocate district resources more strategically
School ERP vs. Business ERP Systems: What’s the Difference?
ERP software got its start in the corporate world, but the value it brings is universal. All organizations need to track their finances and manage human capital. But when it comes to education organizations and for-profit businesses, that’s where the similarities end.
A school district isn’t a corporation, hospital, or municipal government, and trying to make software work for an industry it wasn’t originally designed for just doesn’t work — it’s like trying to fit a square peg into a round hole.
There are a lot of differences between software made for K-12 and software made for businesses, and to fully realize the benefits of an ERP system, you need to find one that’s made for your needs, and the unique needs of K-12. Let’s break it down:
|K-12 ERP Systems:||Generic Corporate Systems:|
|Break down siloes and provide a single source of truth for what’s happening in the district. Weave a school district’s core processes into a single system, linking the central office more closely to each campus and providing a greater level of support.||Provide a single source of truth by integrating all of a business’s core processes into a single system, from product development and supply chain management to revenue from sales or marketing efforts.|
|Include more evolved Human Resources functionality to manage employee benefits, compensation and records to meet K-12’s unique needs. Better equipped to manage education-specific requirements, such as tracking teacher certifications, managing employees with stipends or multiple positions (e.g. teachers who are also coaches) and pensions or state retirement plans.||Often have a separate module for bare-bones HR: managing employee documents, compensation and benefits. This tends to be a simple add-on to the main system, which is focused on financials.|
|Improve compliance with labor laws, state and federal reporting, school finance regulations and more.||Focused primarily on regulatory compliance and meeting general corporate obligations.|
|Built with the understanding that every dollar in K-12 comes with a string attached. Designed to accommodate a more intricate chart of accounts to accurately track assets, liability, equity, revenue and expenses.||Built for straightforward corporate accounting.|
|Developed with the intention of integrating with student information systems for real-time data and reporting.||May offer a routine file transfer that transmits static data between the ERP system and your SIS on a set schedule (for an additional cost)|
As you can see, comparing ERP systems is not always “apples to apples.”
Why is ERP software important for school districts?
Operating a district comes with a lot of responsibility — and complexity. As the demands placed on school business officials increase, and schools are expected to do more with less, it’s more and more important that districts are making the most of their resources. An ERP system can help smooth the way through issues related to funding, accounting and compliance, so that district leaders can focus on providing the best education possible for all students.
When you’re in the business of K-12, every dollar is an opportunity to help students succeed. So, it’s crucial that you can get every cent the district deserves. To maximize state funding, you need to ensure that you’re accurately reporting your district’s data. It’s hard to gather all the data you need and catch errors when the information is stored in ten different systems, or hundreds of spreadsheets (or worse, stacks of binders), and the state reporting deadline is looming just around the corner.
ERP software can be invaluable in gathering the data needed, ensuring that it’s correct and submitting it. Look for technology that manages all of your information in one system, with embedded data validation tools to ensure accuracy. If you choose a system made only for K-12, you’ll also experience fewer submission errors — and you can be confident that it’s kept up-to-date with any changes to reporting requirements.
It’s also important to understand district trends and ensure that your district’s practices aren’t costing you funding. An ERP system can give you real-time visibility into your district’s data, allowing you to address issues proactively. You don’t want to have to hire a full-time data analyst and engineer to consolidate and interpret information from disparate systems. An ERP system made for K-12 can provide real-time reports and easy-to-read dashboards that keep you up-to-date — no advanced degrees in analytics required!
Your district’s chart of accounts is much more granular than a corporation’s. It has to be, due to all of the strings attached to funds and unique scenarios like having employees with stipends or additional duties. Manually tracking all of the funding and expenses in the district might give you as much granularity as you want, but it’s not efficient or reliable.
An ERP system is a much more effective option. The software lets you assign account numbers to types of financial transactions in order to track assets, liability, equity, revenue and expenses for financial reports. And, you can attach any supporting materials or documents (like receipts), so you can improve accountability even more. It’s all about having the documentation you need in case of an audit.
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Template: School District Chart of Accounts
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Support people across the district
While ERP systems are commonly thought of as something for just the business office, that’s not the case at all! As a single source of truth, ERP software breaks down siloes and ensures that everyone’s operating on the same page with access to real-time data.
The best ERP software has an impact across the district:
- Staff can be confident that their paychecks will be accurate, whether they are hourly employees or teachers with stipends (or anyone else!) Plus, they can select and enroll in their benefits packages, and get the information they need about individual plans.
- Human Resources can spend less time managing employee paperwork and more time supporting employees. Organizational mapping and position management ensure that every position is planned for and funded.
- The Business Office saves hours with automatic workflows and can dive deeper into every dollar spent in the district. By connecting all the data dots from recruiting to retirement, budget to spend, and from procure to pay, school business officials gain the visibility they need to be the best stewards of district resources.
- The Superintendent and School Administrators can lead with confidence knowing that instruction and district operations are supported by exceptional organizational management and financial clarity.
- The School Board can make better decisions based on accurate data and reporting and gain peace of mind that the district’s finances are in order.
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Rekindling Connections Between HR and Finance in Schools: Position Management.
Benefits and Features of a School ERP System
By supporting processes from Human Resources to Finance & Payroll in a single role-based system of record, your business office can finally start to remove bottlenecks and roadblocks that slow operations down. In an ERP that is built with K-12 schools in mind, school business officials can design automated workflows that track critical information throughout the entire request and approval process.
Embedded Data Validation
Make sure that information is accurate, and in the correct format before it gets buried in a field deep in a record that gets hard to find until it’s time to submit a report later in the year.
Integration of Business Office Functional Areas and Information
When everything you need is all tracked and maintained in the same system, the school business office benefits from having real-time data at their fingertips. No more waiting for someone to physically walk a sheet of paper down the hall, and no more being at the mercy of a nightly export to finally see the information you rely on. Administrators, school business officials and HR professionals are not only in the same book, but they’re finally all on the same page.
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eBook: Position Management Playbook for School Districts
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A school district ERP gives every single data point that HR, Finance & Payroll need to collect and report on a “home” already built and accounted for in the software.
Configuration of Ideal Processes (without costly code customization)
There’s a ton of differences between a school district specific ERP and generic business software, one of the most significant being the differentiation of configuration and customization. Typically, when customizations in the code are required to make the software work for a school district, that goes hand-in-hand with expensive unforeseen costs.
When a school district ERP is configurable, that’s indicating that the software is already capable of handling the unique needs of schools and settings, permissions and workflows just need to be configured in the software (as opposed to needing new code).
How do you choose the best ERP system?
Not all ERP software is created equal, so it’s important to consider how it will fit into your district before choosing one. After all, a new ERP system should eradicate headaches — not cause them. So, there are a few key things to consider:
Will your data be secure?
Given the sheer amount of data an ERP system manages — and how much of it is sensitive financial or personnel information — make sure that any system you consider will keep your district’s data safe and secure. Look for vendors with clear, stated commitments to providing secure technology.
Within the system itself, make sure there are ways to ensure accountability and prevent people from seeing records they shouldn’t be able to access. For example, you should be able to easily set permissions for new users based on their position type. When you hire a new principal, for example, you shouldn’t have to manually set their permissions to only see their school’s information. Likewise, when you hire a new teacher, it should be simple to ensure that they can only see relevant information about their students — not the students in the next classroom over.
Does it meet your district’s needs?
To get a system that truly meets your needs, avoid generic software made for for-profit companies — they aren’t built for the unique needs of K-12. Your school ERP system should work for you, not against you.
Look for a K-12 ERP system that you can configure to meet your needs during the implementation process, and let it do what it was made to do.
What is the lifespan (and associated costs) of the system?
No one wants to switch ERP systems every other year or update their processes continually. For that reason, it’s a good idea to know how long you can expect a system to last and understand what kind of maintenance or fees you will face down the road. Consider these costs over the long term: a higher implementation fee may be worth it if having more training and resources provided upfront ensures that the system runs smoothly for years and doesn’t require costly customizations later on.
For example, some systems may be relatively cheap to implement. Chances are, this is because the vendor is investing less time and expertise into ensuring that the system is set up to meet your district’s unique needs. When you run into issues caused by the system not being set up exactly for your district’s unique needs, you may have to pay the vendor even more for consulting, training and system customizations. Or, you might have to pay to update the system every time the state changes its reporting requirements.
Is it the right time to make a change?
Successfully implementing an ERP system requires commitment and careful change management. It takes time and resources to get everything working the way it needs to in order to best support your district’s needs, and that certainly won’t happen overnight. Turnover in the district’s central office can make the transition harder than necessary, so it’s important to have a good team in place. It’s rapidly becoming best practice for district leaders to identify an in-house project management team to consider current processes, evaluate school ERP software options and partner with the implementations team to ensure a successful change.
An ERP implementation for a school district should be worked through in phases including important milestones like data clean-up and conversion, permissions, configuration and training/adoption.