Ask The Expert: Katie Walmsley (Part 1 of 4)
We recently had the opportunity to speak with school finance expert and longstanding Edstruments partner Katie Walmsley about her thoughts on the rapidly evolving landscape of K12 finance. For over 3 years, Katie has served as Chief Financial Officer for KIPP New Orleans Schools (“KNOS”), one of the largest public-school networks in the New Orleans area with 5000 students grades PreK-12. Prior to KNOS, she spent several years in leadership positions at Teach For America in New Orleans. This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
What challenges have you overcome as a school finance leader this year, and what advice would you have to others facing similar challenges?
The pandemic has changed revenue sources dramatically. In New Orleans, it decreased revenues that were a function of economic activity, like sales tax. This obviously creates risk for the organization. But the pandemic also brought about new funding sources such as relief legislation. This ensured that the organization didn’t have to cut any programmatic offerings at times that students need them most due to downturns in more stable, recurring revenue sources.
New money is great: it provides a lot of opportunity. But identifying new opportunities to spend new money, and spend it well, is a real challenge, especially when you cannot commit to those new investment areas in perpetuity.
Responding to this challenge and opportunity required ingenuity and resourcefulness, and doing so helped us foster collaboration in new ways. Even though people were tired and busy, we found that it was meaningful to work in a cross-functional way to make things happen. For instance, collaborations between school teams, finance, and operations departments boosted new working relationships in a time when camaraderie has never been more important.
In short: collaborating with purpose gave meaning to our work at a time when it was really hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel. My advice is to prioritize projects that a broad swath of folks from different vantage points agree will have the greatest impact on students and schools, and that will also give people the sense of being on a winning team. People need to feel wins, and they need to feel them together.
Edstruments exists to equip education leaders with the knowledge and tools to most effectively and equitably serve their students. To learn more about how we can help your school administrators make better financial decisions, email us at email@example.com or fill out the contact form on our main website.