Empire Union School District in Modesto, Calif., is a K-8 district serving 3,500 students, with seven sites and a district office. It employs 192 full-time equivalent (FTE) certificated staff, 150 FTE classified staff, and 25 managers. In 2001, facing a need to manage attendance tracking as well as position control, Empire began investigating new technology solutions. Today, the district has successfully created a system that brings HR and the school business office into harmony.

“Our legacy system was [based on] manual staff sign-in through monthly time sheets. Accountability became an issue with unexplained absences, late sign-ins, and late sign- ins when absences had occurred,” said Donald Kiger, Empire’s assistant superintendent of business.

“We were losing 5 percent of unreported or unexplained absences, as we had no way to verify or cross-check information. The business office could not verify positions—how many were filled and how many vacant. When we built the budget, we didn’t have a comfort level with the exact positions being funded. We were in a declining enrollment, laying off staff, and we needed to control positions and manage the budget [carefully],” Kiger added.

District efforts focused on identifying a position control and tracking system that would check absentee records, cross-check with substitute listings, and verify the information against sick leave and other attendance records.

“Our efforts led us to Digital Schools and its Digital Schools Suite, including online attendance and position control,” Kiger said. “We recognized its ability to integrate data and provide management with a technologically advanced accountability program.”

Managing the change process

The hardest task for the district was to manage the change process. There were members of staff and management who were very resistant to implementation and continuously found roadblocks to halt progress. Change is frightening to those who aren’t comfortable with it, or with technology in general. Because the solution absolutely required a marriage between the business office and human-resources department, and required site-level cooperation, Empire faced a significant challenge.

The implementation process, which typically is managed with a point person from the district in a few short months, was dramatically extended in this case.

It was a complex internal problem. Empire officials realized the only way change would occur successfully was with a top-down mandate that this system would be used, accompanied by internal changes.

It was about this time that Michael Gonzales was hired as the assistant superintendent of human resources. He quickly assessed and understood the value and importance of this services-driven application.

“Neither of us [business office or HR] can work in a vacuum,” Gonzales explained. “The nature of the relationship is such that it must be cooperative; every technology tool at our disposal must be employed. In short, harmony and cooperation to resolve issues and work through solutions must exist between our two areas in order for the entire district to benefit.”

With change managed internally, Empire was positioned to implement the system on an efficient and thorough basis.

Managing the implementation process

The district first started with position control and then proceeded to staff attendance. Because the solution is services-driven, as opposed to “software in a box,” Digital Schools provided a dedicated resource in Machelle Melville, client services manager. Melville trained business staff and worked with the district in jointly presenting workshops for site secretaries, who were instrumental to a successful implementation.

To develop a good control group, the district piloted the solution with its Head Start and maintenance and operations divisions. The internal process was to implement online attendance within these two groups, meet with them to discuss issues and concerns, and then fine-tune the application to meet specific district needs.

Because measurement is an essential tool for both the business office and human resources, the district conducted an evaluation, made final adjustments, and then implemented the system for all schools and all departments.

“It really was a simple process. Machelle had the implementation set forth in a manner that was easy for us to manage and implement,” said Gonzales. “It also is a great help that the system is so easy to use.”

District superintendents realized that both the business office and HR had respective responsibilities to fulfill, so they selected an individual with fiscal knowledge and interest in learning about and being trained on the HR side. This person was identified and trained as the focal point to be responsible for the site attendance.

When there is an absence, it is immediately coded by the sites. This eliminates the guess work. The business office can electronically match absences with substitute use, by area, and generate the validated reports that enable solid management and control.

On the resistance side, management identified those who continuously threw up roadblocks by asking Digital School’s assistance in identifying the person(s) and areas with consistent issues and/or help requests. District officials were proactive in intervention by enforcing the top-down rule. “This was our issue to resolve, and we didn’t want this to create unreasonable demands on and expectations of Digital Schools,” said Kiger.

Additional areas of benefit

Eliminating paper, minimizing general fund expenditures while maximizing expenditures from the categorical fund, and tracking of absences, substitutes, and credentials are among some of the benefits the district experienced.

Now, having fully implemented the system for the past several years, Empire has set a standard for the essential interrelationships that must exist between HR and the business office. Complementing this harmony is an array of benefits, including:

  • Increased productivity;
  • Full accountability;
  • Streamlined processes;
  • Improved budgeting against open positions;
  • Curtailing of unauthorized position changes and additions; and
  • Clear revenue savings.

“Any well-run district knows that there must be harmony between the human resources and business offices. Our new system has become an essential tool for linking what traditionally have been disparate, and—in some districts—conflicting, activities,” Kiger said. “Our good working relationship was further enhanced with the ability to integrate essential data to generate accurate and accountable budgets and payrolls.”

He concluded: “Administrators may not want hear this, but they need to: Business does payroll, HR does hiring, and this must be a harmonious blend—not a competition.”

For more information about Empire’s system, contact Don Kiger at dkiger@empire.k.12.ca.us.


Empire Union USD

Digital Schools

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