Ed here. Last month, I had the opportunity to drop in on the Northwest Educational Service District's (NWESD) Business Manager’s Academy (BMA). A small, but lively class of eight participants were learning about legislation, levy projections, long-term budget planning, and transportation funding pertaining to school districts.
After the class, I spoke to instructor Lori McLeod, NWESD Fiscal Services Supervisor, to learn a little more about the BMA. I learned that there are only two BMAs in the state: NWESD and at ESD 113 in Tumwater (which has a different schedule structure). The first NWESD academy, held in 2007-2008, began as the result of superintendents finding it more and more difficult to attract business managers with experience or an understanding of K-12 finance in Washington State.
From this request, the NWESD put together the BMA as a “grow your own” model designed for new business managers (or business managers new to the district), current staff a step below the business manager, or simply those with an interest in learning what a business manager does to prepare them for potential growth.
The BMA is structured as “just in time” training that covers a wide variety of school finance topics. There are sessions that have guest speakers to cover specific topics such as Capital Projects Financing, Collective Bargaining and the Finance Department, Reduction in Force, Transportation Funding, and Purchasing Basics. Sessions are held one day per month beginning in September (excluding January) and go through May. Students are issued a BMA binder, and each session a little more is added to the binder as topics are covered. Over the years, using feedback from prior classes and as the result of changing legislation, the sessions have been modified and updated to expand or add topics – and the binders have become fuller.
When I asked Lori what her favorite thing was about the BMA she said, “that the class stays together for all eight sessions. Due to this, something magical happens by about the third session where the participants realize they are with a group of peers they can trust.This eliminates fears of asking “dumb questions” or feeling inadequate if unaware of an upcoming deadline or confused about a process. This is especially true for a participant navigating an election for a bond or levy for the first time, as there are many rules involved and hard deadlines. The BMA also provides tools and information the participants tuck in their binders and take with them to use as a resource when doing their work in the district. In fact, I was in the very first academy and found that I used my binder on a regular basis the first few years working as a business manager, especially with those processes that only occur annually.”
Another neat perspective on the BMA came from our NWESD Assistant Superintendent of Finance & Compliance, Lisa Matthews. Prior to working at the NWESD, Lisa was the Business Manager at the Anacortes School District for 10 years. Lisa said, “I actually attended the BMA when I started my career as a business manager 11 years ago!The concentration of training proved to be invaluable to me while at the Anacortes School District. And I also had the opportunity to send three other business office staff through the BMA (HR, payroll, A/P).Each one of them came back with a new perspective on school finances and felt they had a much better understanding of how their part of the business office fit into the big picture of the district finances and the state of Washington funding for schools.”
As is the case in most instances, the real way to find out about something is to ask those who have actual life experiences. Below are a few paragraphs that were received from participants:
Feedback from a current BMA participant:
“The best part of the academy is the timeliness of the topics. You seem to have things scheduled right when we need to know them. I also like the perspective we get from the diverse participants. It’s not all business managers. There’s HR, Special Ed, budget…I think it helps to see things thru others perspective as well. I like that you are captive with us for the whole day and we can ask a million questions of you if we need to. I also feel like having gone thru the class sitting next to the same people from other districts that I would feel comfortable approaching them for help.”
Feedback from a prior BMA participant:
“I loved everything about the Academy. I feel so lucky that I was able to attend. Here are the four things that I liked the most:
- That we covered a wide range of topics from monthly duties to annual processes
- That we used actual reports and data from our district to complete the homework and in-class assignments
- The great speakers we had
- I loved was the amazing lunches!
After attending, what has helped me the most is the binder with all the amazing reference material. It has been a huge help. I have referred to it often in my first year as an assistant finance director.”
Dates: Sept 6-May 2, 2018 (8 Sessions)
We are currently accepting registrations for BMA 2018-2019, until full (maximum class size 8)
Those interested in attending the academy will need to reach out to the finance director/business manager at their district as the districts are provided with specifics on the cost of the academy and how to register.
If you have additional questions about the BMA please contact:
Lori McLeod, NWESD Fiscal Services Supervisor | 360-299-4715 | firstname.lastname@example.org