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.
How do you ensure that your organization's budgeted and actual use of funds is in line with strategic goals?
One way is to create budgeting tools that are aligned to the specific needs of user groups, allowing them to get through the actual budgeting process in a reasonable amount of time.
If we do that well, it can also mean that budgeting doesn’t mean the beginning of spring planning, but instead it becomes a piece of a broader, months-long process that starts after winter break and takes place across programmatic teams.
This allows decision makers to think deeply and debate strategic options with stakeholders, which will lead to a coherent strategic plan containing sets of strategies throughout the year that arose from healthy, programmatic management conversations. As budgeting starts, managers have done the appropriate level of reflection, data analysis, peer interrogation, and stakeholder outreach…all things where finance should not be the “tail wagging the dog.” We should come to clarity through reflection and collaboration, and then decide what resources we should expend.
There’s also another, more technical strategy we’re piloting. Historically, we have set up budgeting tools to be intuitive to different decision makers, but the structure of those tools had little relation to the mandatory financial chart of accounts that the public sector requires. This means that, so to speak, you may be budgeting in English when the actual required reports should actually be in Latin.
This year, we’re exploring a way to make the required account structure work for us. We are using intuitive dropdowns, meant for internal budget users, that map to the parent “function codes” that the state requires public school operators to use. We hope that this increased hierarchy in our coding will help us to avoid creating a redundant new dimension in our chart of accounts, keep us compliant, and give budget users information in a format that they can more easily use.
Edstruments was founded to help public school systems including both traditional school districts and charter schools make the most of their resources on behalf of students. We work with leaders in all roles to empower their decision-making, utilizing principles like those written about in this article. Increase your collaboration, plan multiple scenarios with ease, and deploy your dollars more strategically. Interested in learning more? Reach out to our team at email@example.com today!