The role of a K‑12 district Chief Financial Officer (CFO) has evolved over the years. What used to be a back office role focused on spreadsheets and budgets is now a position with high level oversight of the overall goals for a school district. School budgets are extremely tight and many people don’t understand that school districts are huge enterprises that encompass everything from facilities and teachers to food programs and transportation. The modern CFO is responsible for the financial decisions that affect every aspect of their school district.
The Key Roles of a Modern K‑12 CFO
The modern K‑12 CFO is still responsible for all of the tasks that have always been part of the role. These include things like managing the district’s budget, ensuring that the bills are paid, and keeping the district in compliance by preparing for financial audits. However, the role now encompasses much more than finance and accounting. Today, CFOs also have to be skilled at strategic planning, analyzing data, and collaborating with every department from transportation to HR.
From Budgeting to Strategic Planning
Every dollar that a school district spends has to align to a desired outcome. Essentially, money can only be spent if it is going to move the school district closer to its goals. That means that the CFO must analyze past and current funding allocations to ensure that they still make sense for the district’s overall goals. This can look as simple as purchasing new instructional materials or as impactful as cutting an after school program. These decisions aren’t easy to make, but they are necessary to keep a district moving towards its desired outcomes.
Making Data Driven Decisions
Most K‑12 school districts make student-based funding decisions. With student success at the forefront, CFOs can’t afford to make decisions blindly. This is where data, and the ability to analyze it, comes in. CFOs have to be able to make sense of all the data available to them in order to make finance decisions that are going to lead to the greatest student success. Part of keeping a district in compliance is being able to justify any funding decisions with tangible data. Using the purchase of new instructional materials as an example, a district must be able to demonstrate the student learning that came as a result of that purchase in order to justify its continued use. Otherwise, a change may need to be made.
Collaboration and Communication
The CFO role is at the center of every funding decision made in a K‑12 district. With that level of responsibility, the CFO must be able to make high-level strategic spending decisions and analyze all the data available. They must also be able to communicate their decisions to district stakeholders like school board members, administrators, teachers, and parents. Additionally, a strong leader asks for input from their stakeholders. The CFO uses that, coupled with the data available, to make the best possible decisions for the district.
The Right Technology can Make a CFO’s Job More Effective
Since the role of CFO has evolved substantially in the last few decades, it is more important than ever for them to have the tools they need to do their job effectively. Not only do the CFOs themselves need the proper tools to do their job, but they need to provide every department in the district with the same. From Human Resources and Transportation to Nutrition and Accounting, CFOs need to choose software solutions that enable district employees to do their jobs as efficiently as possible. This means selecting enterprise resource solutions that keep data centrally located, accessible, and secure.
Check out helpful tips for those new to Financial leadership roles in your district in our New CFO Financial Leadership Guide: