The partnership between Arkansas’ Division of Elementary and Secondary Education and the Region 14 Comprehensive Center aims to develop financial health systems and tools to strengthen leadership’s ability to help school districts assess finances and promote positive fiscal health practices.
Consequently, the partnership supports each district’s knowledge of and ability to maintain positive fiscal health status. Using efficient practices with federal funding allows districts to be more effective in ensuring that every graduating student is prepared for college or a career.
The Arkansas Division of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) worked with the Region 14 Comprehensive Center (R14CC) to assess the state’s financial accountability and management procedures for school districts, which are part of the state’s district operations and fiscal governance system. This work included the evaluation of Arkansas school districts’ existing financial management practices.
DESE leadership identified three key priorities for the new fiscal accountability system:
Defining more explicit, measurable indicators of fiscal health
Ensuring an early warning system can identify districts before they reach fiscal distress
Implementing a holistic approach across all aspects of Arkansas’ six principal systems for public education
The R14CC team, which included our partners at WestEd, supported DESE by conducting data analysis to determine indicators of district fiscal health. Using the data collected, the team created a technical assistance manual called Management Principles to Support School District Fiscal Health to help school districts with their financial practices in order to meet the needs of students and staff. The purpose of the manual is to assist district leaders in achieving and maintaining fiscal health.
The manual includes a Financial Systems Analysis Tool with principles, expectations, fiscal indicators, and a system of supports that districts can use to evaluate, implement, and maintain practices that promote fiscal health. DESE can also use this tool to inform the creation of fiscal distress plans and provide targeted technical assistance to encourage strong fiscal health practices.
The manual outlines six principles to guide fiscal administration, decision making, and strategic planning:
- The district creates an annual budget to guide spending throughout the school year.
- The district expends funds appropriately and maintains detailed documentation.
- The district has established procedures and controls to conduct financial transactions properly.
- The district maintains fund balances per state and federal regulations.
- The superintendent is responsible for the financial operations of the district.
- The local school board knows the district’s financial status and makes policy decisions accordingly.
Following the development of the manual, the team shifted their focus to DESE’s internal operations and assisted the Fiscal Services and Support Unit with the review and documentation of their in-house processes, resulting in a Google Drive repository of recorded procedures and linked resources.
The project concluded at the end of June 2023. To continue maintaining fiscal health, R14CC provided DESE with the Management Principles to Support School District Fiscal Health manual, featured on the DESE Fiscal Services and Support Unit website. Additionally, the unit has access to the Google Drive repository of documented procedures and linked resources.