- Heartland Area Education Agencies (AEA) is one of nine agencies created by the Iowa Legislature to ensure efficient, effective, and equal educational opportunities for all children. Heartland, which has the largest enrollment of any Iowa AEA, provides public and accredited private schools in Central Iowa with services, programs, and resources for improving learning outcomes and the well-being of children and youth.
- West Des Moines Community Schools is the ninth largest public school district in Iowa, with more than 9,000 students, approximately 1,200 employees, and 14 schools. For more than 100 years, the district “has been preparing learners for life.”
- Since 2004, Heartland AEA has used BusinessPLUS for its financial reporting. The agency supports two school districts, West Des Moines and Johnston, with security for the financial and human resources management system and in using the software solution’s CDD (Click, Drag, and Drill) report writing tool.
Strongly committed to financial responsibility, West Des Moines School District wanted a detailed line item budget available from day one of the fiscal year.
Use BusinessPLUS Position Budgeting for budget forecasting and to support business decision-making. Extend implementation and training to allow West Des Moines personnel to collaborate with accounting and IT staff from Heartland AEA—to draw on the agency’s experience with the software and Iowa reporting requirements, apply best practices, and develop tools for Iowa regulatory reporting.
Heartland AEA’s and West Des Moines Community Schools’ Story of Success
The challenge of having a detailed line-item budget in place by the beginning of the fiscal year seemed insurmountable for one Central Iowa school district. But a conversation between two colleagues that began in frustration led to a collaboration that ended in overwhelming success.
Advice from a Colleague
Now in her 27th year as an accountant at Heartland AEA, Rebecca McCreary has relied on the BusinessPLUS financial and human resources software since the organization went live on the system in 2004. Although McCreary’s work doesn’t directly support area school districts, she frequently attends meetings with her counterparts. And often, their conversations focus on best practices.
“Recently, Donna Gregory, director of business services at West Des Moines, was expressing frustration because she couldn’t create a detailed line item budget until October, which is four months after the fiscal year begins,” recalls McCreary.
McCreary understands Gregory’s concern. “Having a detailed line item budget available day one gives you a sense of security that you are spending within your spending authority. And, if things go according to plan, you know that you’re going to have sufficient funds to cover your costs for the year,” she explains. “Having that level of reliability really is essential for someone who is fiscally responsible to the taxpayers for running a district.”
The solution for her colleague’s problem was obvious to McCreary: BusinessPLUS Position Budgeting.
“Since 2004, Heartland has been using BusinessPLUS Position Budgeting for salary negotiations, forecasting, and budgeting. It’s an extremely flexible and powerful piece of software and will give you wonderful results.”
BusinessPLUS Position Budgeting allows district administrators to capture human resources data at a specific moment in time and budget salaries and district contributions for future forecasting and decision making. The software automatically gathers essential human resources data, applies projected salary table increases and benefit changes, automates step increases, and manages vacancies to project future budgets or mid-year changes. With Position Budgeting, administrators can develop and compare several budget scenarios during contract negotiations. When the final budget is established, information will flow from the software into the BusinessPLUS General Ledger and Project/Job Account Ledger.
Collaboration Builds Confidence, Supports Regulatory Compliance
On McCreary’s recommendation, West Des Moines Community Schools decided to expand and enhance its use of Position Budgeting. Leading the implementation and training was SunGard K-12 senior consultant Wes Durham, who first used BusinessPLUS as an employee at another school district.
At the district’s request, Durham extended the implementation, which normally takes just a few weeks during the busy budget season, to allow for a collaboration between West Des Moines and Heartland AEA. Over two months, Durham led a series of distance-learning sessions in which both the West Des Moines and Heartland teams participated. As Durham guided the implementation and training, West Des Moines drew on Heartland’s experience with the tool and Iowa reporting requirements.
The process allowed West Des Moines to apply best practices, and provided the Heartland IT team with the necessary information to develop specific CDD reports to allow the district to respond to Iowa regulatory requirements.
“Each of us had knowledge that we brought to the table that made the process very efficient,” says McCreary. “Wes helped the district get completely set up and trained in Position Budgeting. Donna knew how the district’s payroll was set up. Together, we created the BusinessPLUS tools and strategies needed for modeling and forecasting. And, Heartland’s IT team provided and customized CDD reports based on our own reports.”
During the sessions, McCreary—with her keen understanding of the software, Iowa reporting requirements, and best practices—served as an interpreter and adviser for Gregory.
For example, McCreary encouraged Gregory to add more detail. “When I do position budgeting, I enter all employees with their FTE and salary,” McCreary says. “Then from the expenditure summary, I can drill on that budget number, and it will bring up all of those detailed transactions that back that up. I can see what personnel are budgeted in there, for how much, and what their FTE is.”
After the conclusion of the training and implementation, McCreary continued the collaboration for several more weeks, even traveling to the district for a final one-on-one—just to ensure that there were no questions. On her arrival, she found her colleague confident and positive about her new tool.
“I encourage anyone new to Position Budgeting to just get in there, start creating models, and getting them to do what you want them to do,” McCreary says. “Don’t be afraid of it. You can’t hurt anything because it’s drawing data out of your database, not feeding it back in. With experience, it can be an extremely powerful friend and can do anything you ask it to.”
Looking back on the experience, both McCreary and Gregory say the short collaboration was a success.
“Donna was very pleased when the fiscal year began and she had created a detailed line item budget, and it was already loaded into their ledger,” McCreary says. “Using simple drill techniques on CDD reports, she can drill into a salary budget number and see exactly who is budgeted there and what their FTE and salary is. Through hard work and determination, West Des Moines Community Schools has come a long way in a few short months. They are now Position Budgeting believers.”
Gregory appreciates the support of the Heartland and SunGard K-12 experts. “Rebecca provided excellent training as we implemented the Position Budgeting module,” Gregory says. “We were fortunate to have her experience in the room, along with the SunGard consultant Wes Durham, as we learned how to set up our system.”