How a school district CFO gained buy-in for an open platform initiative

April 4, 2018 – OpenGov

If you’re interested in moving to an open platform, one challenge can be how to gain support and buy-in for a cloud-based tool. Not everyone is familiar with the cloud or online systems, and driving adoption of the tool is essential to experience the benefits of an open platform. This is a question that an innovative Chief Financial Officer for a school district faced.

Williamson County Schools is a K-12 school district comprised of 44 schools. Known as Tennessee’s top district, it prides itself on high student achievement and outstanding test scores. District administrators and the local Board manage a budget approved by the County Commission, which is mainly supported by local sales and property taxes.

Managing the largest financial unit within the County’s government, district administrators sought a way to increase transparency between County Commissioners, the Board of Education, and the public. They also wanted to enhance decision-making and public understanding of the district’s budget and capital project details.

A common public perception, or at least to the commission, during budget seasons has been that the school district’s budget was inflated with money to spare. Additionally, candidates for elected office have made reference that district finances were not transparent. “There is a universal distrust between the County Commission and the Board of Education, mainly because we are the reason for over 75% of the tax rate,” said Chief Financial Officer Leslie Holman.

Holman knew the solution lay in open platforms -- which comprise one part of the Open Impact movement -- a trend among governments to use open platforms, modern budgeting and a focus on performance to drive effectiveness, accountability, and most importantly, make a bigger difference in the lives of those they serve. Holman first learned of OpenGov at a Government Finance Officers Association (GFOA) conference. OpenGov provided a way to bridge the trust gap and correct inaccurate assumptions that the County Commission and Board of Education had.

“This is a tool that allows anybody to explore all of our budget details and see that, on the whole, we don’t spend a lot of money – over 85 percent of any of our budgets over the years is locked into salaries and benefits, not discretionary spending,” she said. “The presentations that Opengov offers through their software gives citizens, public officials and even our department heads the ability to drill down and see what costs actually are and have been over the last several years.”

But how to gain buy in and drive adoption from the Board of Education and the public?

Not every Board of Education member comes from a public sector background, and even those in private finance have a learning curve concerning the government budgeting operations. Holman got creative and decided to make learning the open platform fun. She loaded several years of District finances into OpenGov and created an experiential scavenger hunt for her Board members to explore the platform and see how easy it was to research and find specific information.

She also used the transparency site and its capabilities as her “show and tell” session in the district’s annual “InfoThon” held at the local galleria at the beginning of the school year.

“Typically, nobody comes by my table because I’m in finance and I guess they think I have nothing to say but 'give me the money', but this year I handed out a prepared pamphlet of the scavenger hunt I had given the Board as a training tool,” she said. Holman engaged parents and community members with the site and shared the platform’s user-friendly landing page, which includes “How to Use OpenGov” and FAQ sections. “A lot of people are excited about it when they find out that we have it,” Holman said. Her creative efforts to introduce an open platform to people paid off. She’s used the tool with its easy to visualize reports to advocate for her districts fair share of funding at the State level.

Want to learn more about how Holman has leveraged OpenGov for her district?

Read the full case study and find out how you can put the power of open platforms to work for the people you serve.