Upper Arlington News

Guest column

Team prepares July briefing on district finances

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During the past four and a half months, I have had the pleasure of leading a group of Upper Arlington residents tasked with taking an in-depth and discerning look at the financial status of our school district.

The primary goal of this work team is to develop recommendations to assist the district in meeting its promise to the community of reducing expenditures over the next four years, resulting in a cumulative impact of $4.5 million in cost savings by 2017.

Our group, the Productivity and Efficiency Work Team, began as part of the district's efficiency project, which launched in August 2013. Our role within that project is to review non-personnel-related operational expenses, which make up 14 percent of the district's operating budget.

We have focused on three primary operational costs: document management, energy efficiency and shared services/capital assets.

The essential question our team is seeking to answer is, "What are the necessary and essential ways to improve the district's operating efficiencies and effectiveness?"

We began by reviewing the results of the efficiency project community survey, which was completed by more than 1,800 residents during October and November. That data helped us narrow in on specific areas to investigate, based on the community's input and concerns.

Thus far, the team has reviewed the district's five-year financial forecast; scrutinized expenditures related to purchased services, supplies and capital equipment; toured all of the buildings in the district; evaluated utility expenditures; and assessed the district's document-management processes.

The Productivity and Efficiency Work Team includes community members Brad Campbell, Kevin Diday, Jennifer Griffifth, Michael Jasen and Jeremy Kelly. Our team offers a wealth of expertise to the district with professionals from the fields of insurance, construction, investment strategies, document management and corporate finance.

Supported by Upper Arlington schools Treasurer Andrew Geistfeld and Business Director Chris Potts, we have been able to dig into the details of the district's financials, vendor contracts and energy use. Throughout it all, I have been impressed with the candid and open nature of our discussions.

Andrew, Chris and other district staff have gone to great lengths to provide our team with all information requested, and the team is not afraid to ask pointed and direct questions. It is clear this efficiency effort is one that is taken extremely seriously within our school system.

The district's dedication to efficiency became even more evident as the board of education began exploring options for a new strategic planning process.

After much research, district leadership has launched an exciting new approach to planning that incorporates many elements from the private sector, among them a focus on efficiency, productivity and financial sustainability. The board has invited our group to support this focus area, and we have committed to delivering a briefing paper in July, along with two other work teams that are focusing on academic performance and the quality of the student learning experience.

I look forward to the process of collecting and finalizing our recommendations for the board of education. Our group will make recommendations based on best practices, facts and numbers.

This has been an informative journey for all of our members, and I know I can speak for the group when I say the opportunity to contribute to the lasting success of our schools has been a rewarding experience.

Wade Steen is chairman of the Productivity and Efficiency Work Team. He is a former Franklin County treasurer and has served as chief fiscal officer of Cuyahoga County.

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