With thousands of employees and millions of dollars in infrastructure, school districts are as complex and demanding as large corporations. Add in the extra layers of scrutiny that come from governments and even parents, and it’s no surprise that district budgeting is among the most complicated of financial operations. What is surprising is that the technology most schools use is already decades out of date.
While the concept of the digital spreadsheet is over 50 years old, it wasn’t until 1985 that the first version of Microsoft Excel was released for the Mac computer. Currently the industry standard for spreadsheets and now on its 16th version, it still represents a 30-year-old way of tracking budgets.
Thomas Olson, the founder and CEO of MyBudgetFile, can recall seeing a shift in district budgeting begin over 20 years ago. After 25 years of working with school districts in Southern Alberta, he saw administrators looking for solutions that would give more control to individual principals.
“I could see right away that there was going to be a need for a different way to do business because Excel spreadsheets couldn’t manage that process,” he says. “Boards needed tools to put in the hands of the principals for them to be able to plan effectively, and to collect that information from them in a non-technical way.”
The result was a movement toward decentralized budgeting and the need arose for software to support it. Rather than financial administrators allocating funds from the top down, principals and other front-line education workers are able to shape the district’s budget to meet the needs of students and teachers.
“The question I was really asking was: how do we start to link finance to actual instruction, and in doing so actually be able to improve the student results?” says Olson. “That’s where decentralized budgeting comes in.”
But for decentralized budgeting to be possible, everyone needs to be involved. That presents fresh challenges.
For one, every time a single spreadsheet file is exchanged between principals and administrators there is another chance for an error to occur. And spreadsheets provide the budget’s complete picture, not an individual perspective. Administrators making changes in the document might not just be overwhelmed, they could overstep themselves and make errors in other areas.
With MyBudgetFile, a district’s budget is stored in the cloud, eliminating the possibility of conflicting or corrupted versions. And rather than providing universal access to every user, MyBudgetFile restricts access based on an individual’s area of responsibility. The result is clear accountability for the hundreds of individual budgets that make up the school district budget.
“It’s a tool that facilitates a district’s decision-making process,” says Olson. “Without it there’s no way for people to be able to do that planning. There’s chaos.”
With over 90 clients in North America, MyBudgetFile provides expert perspective and technical solutions for school boards moving toward decentralized budgeting. To learn more about MyBudgetFile, or to schedule a consultation, go to mybudgetfile.com.