A Buyer’s Guide to K-12 ERP Systems
Considering whether your district should move to ERP software, or switch to a different vendor? It can feel like a monstrous undertaking to implement an ERP or switch vendors, especially when success is dependent on district-wide data conversion and validation.
There are four key areas of focus when making the “CASE” for an ERP: how will the software improve Compliance, Accountability, Security and Efficiency in the school district? We’ve put together a buyer’s guide to help you choose the right ERP software for your organization.
How does ERP software keep my district compliant?
Meet changing state and federal reporting requirements
You need to prove that your school district is accountable for students, staff and spending. The first thing many education professionals think of in terms of demonstrating compliance is state reporting. But reporting your district’s data to the state can be easier said than done. You’re probably all too familiar with the trouble of trying to keep up with changing requirements, and the hassle of having the report returned with a horde of errors.
Most ERP vendors will tell you that their system helps you report your district data more easily. That might be true, if by “more easily” they really mean “now it’s on a computer screen.” And while it’s more efficient to manage everything electronically, some ERP software can actually create more inconvenience for you. For example, very few vendors have someone dedicated to tracking state reporting requirements for school districts. So, when the submission format or requirements change, it’s all on you to stay on top of what’s different (and hopefully not miss the email notifying you of the change), then personally ask your vendor to make the necessary updates in the system. Chances are, they’ll make the changes — but often for an unexpected fee, and you may have to wait in a queue for the privilege. So, when talking to an ERP system vendor, make sure to ask them how their software makes the reporting process easier on you, and be sure to get the details on what it takes to get the submission templates updated with rapidly evolving requirements.
Let us address a few of these concerns upfront. As you may have guessed from our name, Frontline Education is all about one market only: K-12 education. Unlike other ERP systems, Frontline ERP is made specifically for the unique needs of K-12 — not higher education, not municipalities, not healthcare, not corporations. In fact, Frontline ERP is only offered in a few select states to ensure that our clients can manage the state reporting process pain-free. We have dedicated employees committed to proactively connecting with the Department of Education in those states and at a federal level, as well as district-level reporting specialists to stay on top of submission requirement changes.
And because Frontline ERP manages your district data in real time, in one system, you can be sure that the data you submit is accurate and will help you maximize funding. You can expect fewer errors leading up to submission time, and embedded data validation tools to ensure accuracy.
Track funding accurately
In K-12, every dollar has a string attached. So, it’s important to not only ensure that district spending stays within budget, but that funding and expenses are carefully tracked and accounted for. You don’t want to compromise recurring funding sources simply because you can’t prove that it was used as intended.
A generic ERP system built for private sector organizations is unlikely to have accounting code blocks that are specific to K-12 or are granular enough to meet your needs. Like updates to state reporting, you can ask to have code customizations made in the system — but it’ll come with a cost. So, if you choose a generic or corporate ERP system instead of one made for K-12, be aware that your district will need to pay for extensive customizations. It’s worth having a long conversation with your vendor about whether or not their system is built to handle unique K-12 scenarios, like having a long-term substitute teacher who is also a coach, or demonstrating that a technology grant was spent on the appropriate assets.
When a system is developed from the ground up with school district needs in mind, all of these complex scenarios are already taken into consideration. With Frontline ERP, you can easily assign account numbers to types of financial transactions in order to track assets, liability, equity, revenue and expenses for financial reports. Plus, you can dynamically document the audit trail and supporting materials (including receipts, photos, or any other relevant attachments), so you can improve accountability and add context to your data.
Improve compliance with labor laws
Because school districts often have employees with mixed assignments, maintaining compliance with labor laws such as FMLA, FLSA and ACA can be a challenge. While other ERP vendors may have some similar features, Frontline ERP is built specifically for districts’ unique needs — no costly customizations needed to jury-rig the software to work for K-12.
Frontline ERP can accurately calculate overtime for employees with multiple positions, and ensure that payroll accounts for the right employee classifications (e.g. exempt / non-exempt) and levies (like child support and student loans). Wages can be reported to the proper entities managing Social Security, Medicare, fingerprinting, and certain state retirement systems. Come tax season, need to send ACA 1095 forms and W2s to employees and the federal government? No problem. Need to manage injury reports for OSHA or track workers compensation expenditures? You can do that too!
How does an ERP system improve accountability?
Get the paper trail, without the paper
Documentation is the school business office’s best friend. In the case of an audit or investigation, having strong documentation by your side can save the day. But if you’re still working out of Excel spreadsheets or paper records, you don’t have a reliable way of tracking who has made changes, or when, or what they changed. Using ERP software adds a layer of reliability but be sure to ask your vendor for details on what information is logged and how you can access it. If you find that something isn’t quite right, you don’t want to have to wait for the vendor’s development team to manually pull your system’s logs for you. (For the record, Frontline ERP tracks and timestamps activity in the system, and the system administrator can check these logs at any time.)
One more thing — what happens when the state decides to make a change? If you need to make a change to your accounting codes, Frontline ERP will apply the change only to the current year’s data and future data from that point forward. Previous years’ data will retain its integrity. This way, you can always access accurate reports for past years, without needing to keep an archive of printed paper copies. Other systems tend to apply changes retroactively to all historical data in the system, which can lead to a mess of complications if you’re audited.
Another feature to consider is the ability to electronically process payments through the system. The more physical cash you have floating around the district, the more risk there is that something could go wrong. It doesn’t even need to be as nefarious as someone skimming money — it’s also possible for money to be misplaced, or not recorded properly. Frontline lets you securely process payments for student lunches, activities, clubs, organizations, library fines and more online.*
* With Frontline SIS
Ensure data integrity
When it comes to having accurate information, there’s one maxim to live by: Clean data in, clean data out. It doesn’t matter what ERP software you use — your reports will only be as good as the data they’re based on. So, be sure to ask how your vendor ensures the integrity of your district’s data.
At Frontline, it starts with the implementation process. We import data from your current system, and clean and validate it before entering it into Frontline ERP. That’s clean data in. And unlike some other vendors, we believe that our role in supporting “clean data in” doesn’t stop after implementation. You can use our data validation tools and put rules in place, aligned to your district’s policies, to ensure that only accurate information is entered into the system moving forward. And with our system’s ability to easily run reports based on real-time data, “clean data out” is a no-brainer.
Plus, as mentioned earlier, Frontline ERP will not automatically apply changes to your accounting codes retroactively, in order to preserve the integrity of your data and reports.
Gain visibility across the district
Not all PR is good PR — you don’t want to be in the news for the wrong reasons. We’re not just talking about unethical or criminal behavior — anyone can be embarrassed by an oversight, like a scheduling mishap where none of your teachers have a prep period, or Special Education teachers have too many students. An ERP system can increase accountability and give you insight into what’s happening across the school district, so you can proactively address issues.
But a key component here is having real-time data in one place. If you have to piece together data from different systems, you can’t gain a full picture of what’s going on, and your decision-making process is hobbled. And if you have all the information in one system, but it isn’t updated in real-time, you’re forced to make decisions impacting the students and staff in your district based off of stale data.
Frontline ERP connects all the “data dots” and natively tracks HR, Finance and Payroll information. Plus, it connects with Frontline SIS to provide you with a flow of real-time data — not a routine export that happens once a day. Up-to-date data plus next-gen technology means you can more accurately simulate budget scenarios and forecast funding or expenses. And the end result? You can dive deeper into every dollar spent and make the most of your district’s funding.
What about my district’s data security?
Keeping your district’s data secure is just as important as making sound financial decisions. Because ERP systems can encompass so many district operations and manage so much sensitive data, it’s crucial to choose a vendor with a strong history of protecting client data and dedication to cybersecurity. Whether or not you choose our software, we believe it’s imperative that you have a solid understanding of how your vendor will protect your data.
We can’t speak for other vendors, but we can say that we take data security seriously. We’re a signatory of the Student Privacy Pledge, and our solutions comply with FERPA, PIPA, HIPAA, SOC 2 and other data protection standards.
In addition, we understand the importance of keeping information private within the school district. Like other ERP software, Frontline ERP allows you to set customizable permissions to ensure that each user only has access to the data and reports they need to do their job. We go a step further, too — you can define permissions at the position level, so you don’t need to worry about manually setting up a new user with the wrong permission settings by accident. For example, when you hire a new teacher, you don’t want to accidentally give them global permissions where they can see all student information, and not just their class roster. It’s all about making it easy for everyone in the district to do their jobs effectively, without running the risk of ending up as a news headline.
How can ERP software help me be more efficient?
Any time you change systems or processes, it’s important to ask if the change will add to your workload or streamline it. From a productivity standpoint, an ERP will help you and others in the business office save time on everything from payroll, procurement, accounting, employee record management and more. Any ERP system will take some effort to implement, so the real question is how many hours you could save moving forward.
In Frontline ERP, you can bring together HR, Finance and Payroll in one system, allowing you to connect all the “data dots” from recruiting to retirement, budget to spend, and from procure to pay. The self-service employee portal lets staff select and enroll in benefits packages, adjust qualifying life events, change their contact information and access information pertinent to their benefits plans. You’re still in control, but no longer need to spend hours manually managing everything yourself.
All of the functionality in Frontline ERP is made specifically to save education professionals time across functional areas. Other vendors may provide ERP software that happens to also come with an HR module, for example — but that doesn’t mean that the HR features are truly useful or efficient. And that can lead to breakdowns in communication or misalignment. When one system works across departments and job responsibilities, you can break down siloes and ensure that your district is better positioned for success. For example, with the position management functionality in Frontline ERP, you can ensure that every position is funded before it’s filled — no more scrambling to find room in the budget for new hires.
In addition, having all of your data in one place — and updated in real-time — gives you easier access to the information you need. No more hunting for files or roving through disparate systems to try to find the right data. Having this kind of access to your data empowers you to make sound decisions more swiftly and makes state reporting significantly less stressful.
What is the right ERP system for my district?
When it comes down to it, you need to choose the right ERP system for your district. That may or may not be the one you’re already using, but it’s worth looking into your options. Be sure to weigh the differences between a K-12 specific ERP system and a generic corporate one, and have the vendor put in writing any additional costs associated with customizing the system to fit your district’s needs.
The thought of moving to a new system might be intimidating, but if it leads to better financial decisions, maximized funding and greater accountability, it’s worth it. Hopefully, this guide has given you food for thought, and will help you ask the right questions when meeting with a vendor.