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Living in the Business Office Requires Focus

Educational Support Services

“Focus is a matter of deciding what things you’re not going to do.”
John Carmack, CTO of Oculus VR

Walking into a school district business office strikes catches many people off-guard not because of the office cubicles, but rather how quiet the district business office sounds. Unlike other school district operations such as maintenance & operations, transportation, school site office, playground, or classroom, the district business office can be quieter than a law library, which feels completely antithetical to typical school site noises. The quietness found in district business office is not by design, but rather is because every staff member has a deadline staring them in the face.

Almost everyone who remembers their time as students in the school system knows the ebb and flow that comes with a traditional school calendar. After a relaxing summer, there is anticipation for the first day of school. Once school has started, there is the drive to Thanksgiving and a Winter Break holiday roller coaster that quickly turns into the drive to Spring Break, testing season, and anticipation for the last day of school.

The school district business office has a similar ebb and flow, but it’s much faster and more compressed. Below is a typical timeline for a school district business office.

What makes the district business office calendar different from other academic/education calendars is that it is year-round, and the deadlines are set in statute. Every January 15th, the governor proposes a new budget; every March 15th, a second interim budget report is due to the Board and the COE; every June 30th the LCAP and new budget require approval. These are just some of the winter/spring deadlines. Continuing into summer, August 15th sees the deadline a district to complete the unaudited actuals report to the Board and to the COE. Fall quarter comprises the statutorily required district audit, and the development of the first interim budget report to the Board and the COE by December 15th. If this sounds like an endless hamster wheel of deadlines, well, it is…

In addition to the budget deadlines, other business layers essential to the function of school districts superimpose themselves into the cycle. Each month, two payroll deadlines, 30-day accounts payable payments, monthly Affordable Care Act monitoring requirements, and purchasing/procurement requests for items to serve our students demand immediate, non-negotiable attention. Because the deadlines are real, bolstered by statute, with not much time between them, staff in the business office often exhibits a quiet focus. Without focus, employees are not paid, bills go into collection, and students are not served.

The next time you visit a school district business office and you notice that doors are closed, or no one looks up from their desk, it is not because staff is antisocial. There is a looming deadline driving office activity. To paraphrase Rick Riordan, author of The Lightning Thief, deadlines are not real until you’re staring one in the face. For staff members in a school district business office, there is always a deadline staring at someone.

Sheldon Smith, Ed.D., CBOE
Assistant Superintendent, Business Services
San Luis Obispo County Office of Education

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