A Discussion on the Challenges for School Business Managers

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From fee collection, to resource problems due to staff turnover and inefficient data security standards, the modern challenges facing school business managers and leaders are numerous, and complex. Kenton Newall, Business Relationship Manager at Cole School Experts, explains why these challenges exist and what solutions are available in an interview with Legalwise.

What are 3 current challenges for School Business Managers and Leadership?
  1. Fee collection and debtor levels
  2. Time and resource constraints emphasised by the risk of staff turnover
  3. Inefficient processes of data and compliance with security standards
Why do these challenges exist for schools?

Fee Collection and Debtor Levels

Historically many independent schools, especially faith-based establishments, have been less active to pressurise parents that are slow to pay school fees than other industries are to collect payments from their debtors. This is mainly due to the objective of maintaining a good relationship with the parent community to safe-keep enrolments, the availability of Government funding for students whether parents pay the tuition fees or not and the culture and policy of faith-based schools not to take legal action. Add to this continual economic pressures on Australian families with rising living costs and the expectation that a good quality independent school education is a necessity for your child’s future career options, and you have a cocktail of financial and social issues which a school’s financial team have to deal with in the collection of school fees.

Time and Resource Constraints Emphasised by the Risk of Staff Turnover

It is no hidden secret that, compared with similar departments in other industries, school Finance and Administration teams are quite often understaffed and on tight budgets. Under these tight resource constraints they are expected, often unknown by the school community at large, to achieve the completion of unique reporting and data requirements and manage large campus facilities, ever-developing IT networks, and complex compliance requirements. Behind the students’ classroom, schools are indeed multi-million dollar businesses!
But also…

Inefficient Processes of Data and Compliance with Security Standards

Often schools have, over the years, outgrown the basic manual processes originally put in place which are also frequently operated by the same personnel. When these staff move-on or retire, the inefficiency and lack of documentation of these processes is highlighted acutely as they remain an essential element of the school administration but no one else has the time or understands the process to run them.

Piles of paper documents, manual transfer of forms around campus for written signatures and copious macro running spreadsheets remain the back-bone of many school Finance and Administration processes. In the modern environment of red-tape, compliance and data protection this scenario is not ideal and very difficult for Business Managers to control effectively.

What solutions are available to schools to address these challenges?

Fee Collection and Debtor Levels

First of all, it is essential that schools communicate clear Enrolment, Fee and Collection Policies that state the school’s expectation and describe what parents must do to fit within that framework. This is the necessary foundation for effective fee collection later on. During the enrolment of the student, transparent communication of account information online in a user-friendly portal, giving easy and accessible methods of payment with a variety of flexible payment plans, is an effective method involving both the parent and the school Finance Team in an efficient process of the fee collection. If there are slow payers or families struggling financially, early action and frequent communication will ease the difficulties for both parties. The use of payment and tuition management software is fantastic for creating efficient automated solutions and outsourcing debtor management and collections is a great option when resource poor or for helping to maintain a good relationship between the parent community and the school. Good policy, systems and collaboration in the area of debtor management has a direct positive impact on cash flow and balance sheet viability.

Time and Resource Constraints Emphasised by the Risk of Staff Turnover

In an Australian service culture of franchises and outsourcing, we are all familiar in our homes or businesses with the concept of contracting out tasks that we either don’t have the skills or time to complete ourselves. However, in the school sector we seem to be adverse to doing the same and believe we have to keep everything internal to the school business administration or somehow fit it into our already overloaded working schedule! What we encourage school Business Managers and their teams to do is to accept that they neither have the time, resources or skills onboard to do everything excellently and to analyse their activities between on-site, collaboration and outsource.

Onsite – Where local knowledge or stakeholder interaction is required. Use unique team skills and develop relationships with community, students and staff.
Collaboration – Group support services, collaborate with organisations on shared sites, use church/school groups and associations. This creates benefits like efficiency, economy, flexibility and resilience.
Outsourcing – Completion of transactional and compliance tasks, things you have to do but don’t want to do! Benefit from the expertise of industry best-of-practice. Creates the ability to reassign onsite resources to areas needing attention or meet objectives previously neglected.The added value for schools and Business Managers is that teams are not bogged down with compliance and administration but instead use resources to develop and innovate.

Inefficient Processes of Data and Compliance with Security Standards

Schools are encouraged to commence or continue on their journey of digital transformation by automated efficient processes and workflows. As with any successful business, a school must develop systems so that any finance or administration task functions exactly the same way every time. Rather than the school doing the same thing because it has always done it that way for many years, Leaders must build workflows around business processes, not people. Build systems for each school administrational function and then let these effective automated systems be the back-bone of the school and the school staff operate and develop the systems. When staff leave or new appointments are made it doesn’t matter because the systems still operate as designed. Also, schools must not be distracted from the development of their digital transformation by cost or time commitments because often the cost of in-action and continuing with inefficient processes is more than the investment required to innovate and automate!

To help drive the growth of the business and support services offered to schools, Kenton Newall joined the Cole Team in January 2019 as the Business Relationship Manager. Kenton has Kenton Newallsignificant experience in a range of professional fields embracing his training as a professionally qualified accountant and experience in management and most recently as a Business Manager in an independent K-12 school. Kenton has spent more than 20 years in various commercial, client-services and not-for-profit businesses, improving the effectiveness of systems, increasing business performance and instigating strategic planning processes. This business experience, mixed with the services offered by the Cole team, means Kenton can work with clients to find solutions and systems to support their needs. You may connect with Kenton via email