The only thing worse than training your employees and having them leave is not training them and having them stay. — Henry Ford, Founder, Ford Motor Company
There is no question that school business is complex. From the days of the one room schoolhouse, the utilization of public moneys for the educating our children brings layers of complexity and accountability that are particularly endemic to school business. The intricacies are not going away, but the best method to combat them is through ongoing training for staff who is involved in the business functions of the district.
School districts have plenty of reasons for not promoting business training including travel and registration expenses, the loss in hours, and finding desk coverage. Nevertheless, districts that do not have ongoing training for business staff find themselves with two problems relating to filling openings and the district’s fiscal health.
Look in any school administration magazine and there are advertisements for school business professionals because finding experience is difficult. Unlike the certificated ranks whereby a teaching credential indicates that the applicant possesses certain skills for the position as a condition of employment, the school business field does not have that entrance requirement. Subsequently, school districts find themselves hiring applicants from outside industry who can flip their brains from public accounting to government accounting. Unfortunately, these candidates are not well versed in the tenants and processes that keep a school district fiscally solvent. The upshot is that without the business office establishing and maintaining sound school business practices for effective communication, sound budget development, budget monitoring, ASB accounting, cash monitoring, and ADA accounting, the district finds themselves with the second problem of fiscal health.
The Fiscal Crisis Management Assistance Team (FCMAT) has compiled a list of Indicators of Risk or Potential Insolvency based on their 28 years of working with fiscally distressed school districts. Four of the 10 indicators of potential insolvency directly involve the absence of ongoing budget monitoring, inadequate budget development including ADA accounting, inattention to debt as well as inattention to cash monitoring. FCMAT has found that a district in fiscal distress is not caused by any one singular event, but rather as a result of slow, years-long drift from sound practices partially because of no systematic training in the business office. Most fiscally distressed districts have well-meaning staff but they are not familiar with sound school business practices. As Joel Montero, retired FCMAT Executive Director states, “When FCMAT goes into school districts, we do not find very much (if any) illegal, though we do find a whole lot of disorganisation.”
Over the course of the last three years, the San Luis Obispo County Office of Education (SLOCOE) has partnered with the Association of California School Administrators (ACSA) and the California Association of School Business Officials (CASBO) for holding two 9-18 month Chief Business Official (CBO) training academies, with a third program starting October 19. SLOCOE hosts these academies to allow school districts as well as people interested in school business to improve the business functions in districts, promote practices that contribute to the district’s fiscal health, and allow for employee professional growth and confidence in school business. Business offices with well-trained staff allows for promotional tracks such that when openings occur, there is not a scramble to fill the position with a school business neophyte as there is a trained staff member ready to take the position. Additionally, business staffs have the opportunity to train for their next job in their existing job reducing the invisible force of “job entitlement.”
One tenant that we have in the SLOCOE Business Division that to work in this department, an application must possess two traits; the first is that the applicant cannot be a human hater, and the second is that the applicant has to be smarter than me. The easiest way to become smart in school business is enrolling in any ACSA or CASBO school business program offered at SLOCOE or other surrounding County Offices of Education.
Sheldon Smith, Ed.D., CBOE
Assistant Superintendent, Business Services
San Luis Obispo County Office of Education