Fargo school districts turn to ERP to streamline administration
The Fargo and West Fargo public school districts of North Dakota are grades K-12 educators comprising more than 1,500 teachers and staff and serving almost 20,000 students. Although they operate as different school districts, Fargo Public Schools and West Fargo Public Schools share one thing in common: their use of Microsoft Dynamics GP to facilitate school administration.
When the Fargo and West Fargo public school districts of North Dakota set out to deploy an employee contract management system for teachers, the initiative quickly expanded into a broad modernization initiative, as each district identified additional technologies and defined a set of functional requirements that encompassed human resources (HR), financial, and physical asset management.
West Fargo Public Schools, for instance, relied on a legacy financial management package that was clearly outdated. “We were still using the first financial management system that our school district ever deployed,” says Mark Lemer, Business Manager for West Fargo Public Schools. “Before that system, we were just using paper and pencil—that’s how old it was.”
Fargo Public Schools’ financial management system, which was also outdated, ran on a legacy midrange system. “We were running old terminal screens inside a PC window,” says Bill Westrick, IT Director for Fargo Public Schools. “We needed to do more with our finance system, but we had reached the limit of what it could do.”
Modernizing legacy systems would let districts have multiple users in the system and benefit from the features of a relational database, but in addition the districts understood that upgrading their technology could also them help gain better control over back-office operations. Following rapid growth in the number of students and teachers, the districts had found it difficult to keep up with tasks spanning financial management, HR, and payroll. A single system that tied these business functions together, while also handling school-specific functions such as teacher contract management, could drive considerable efficiencies.
Choosing an ERP system for schools
The Fargo and West Fargo public school districts realized that the breadth and depth of functionality they needed could be found in an enterprise resource planning (ERP) system. The districts evaluated several commercial, off-the-shelf ERP packages. They selected Microsoft Dynamics GP, which provides core financial management, HR, and payroll functionality, while allowing each district to tailor their solution to the specific needs of school administration
Several other factors also governed the decision-making process. Says Lemer, “While it had the functionality we needed, Microsoft Dynamics GP also fit with the technology we were already using, including Microsoft SQL Server, Microsoft SharePoint, Microsoft Word, and Microsoft Excel.”
Teacher contract management and payroll
The school districts were able to re-create the functionality of the contract management system by using Microsoft Dynamics GP as a platform for the contract management processes. Extending the solution in this way has the added advantage of ensuring that contract management documents and workflows integrate seamlessly with core ERP functions such as finance, HR, and payroll.
Reflecting on this change, Lemer notes, “The old method of contract management required us to back-calculate what we were going to pay going forward, and then adjust the payment manually. With Microsoft Dynamics GP, we can just enter a date and note the pertinent changes—for example, if a teacher achieved a master’s degree— and the system will automatically recalculate the teacher’s pay based on the terms of the contract.”Employee benefit calculations and other deductions are also handled natively by Microsoft Dynamics GP. The system automates many of the districts’ payroll processes, including check reconciliation and the ability to send an electronic list of payables to the banks, which allows the banks to match checks, increasing security considerably.
Financial management and state reporting
The robust financial management capabilities of Microsoft Dynamics GP span general ledger, accounts payable, and accounts receivable. With all financial data maintained in a single system, district staff can significantly streamline reporting. The districts have further configured their systems to align reporting capabilities with the specific requirements of North Dakota state reporting. Lemer says, “We can very quickly identify our grant managers and provide the State with the information they need, from budget to actual, encumbrances, and available balances. We can also very quickly report on salaries and benefits—all of which used to happen manually in Excel.”
Timekeeping and substitute tracking
Transforming Microsoft Dynamics GP into a truly unified system for school management, the districts also worked to integrate the solution with their Kronos timekeeping system and Aesop substitute teacher tracking and fulfillment system, replacing separate processes that had captured teachers’ hours manually.
“Both our Kronos and Aesop systems produce data files that are transformed and then pushed to payroll in Microsoft Dynamics GP,” explains Lemer. “Staff previously had to do this by hand, keying in both teacher and substitute hours into our finance system.”
“And we aren’t limited to those specific programs, either,” adds Westrick. “Microsoft Dynamics GP has the tools and flexibility to allow integration of data files from many providers.”
The Fargo and West Fargo public school districts now benefit from an integrated ERP system tailored to the specific needs of school administration. With Microsoft Dynamics GP in place, the districts have been able to significantly streamline back-office operations while supporting rapid growth.
Streamline payroll and ease reporting
By integrating their timekeeping and substitute teacher management systems with Microsoft Dynamics GP, the districts automated formerly manual processes, eliminating the need to rekey payroll information and ensuring accurate timekeeping and reporting.
Preparing reports is also simpler now that the districts can draw on a centralized source of school information. Says Lemer, “Because Microsoft Dynamics GP can draw on the information from our other systems, we have eliminated the need for manual data reentry. Running a report is now a matter of a few clicks of the mouse rather than a tedious effort pulling information from various files and systems.”
“The way Microsoft Dynamics GP ties in so easily with SQL Reporting Services has transformed how our managers oversee their budgets. They can quickly check their spending and balances anytime from the web,” says Westrick.
Staff at individual schools can now enter purchase orders directly in Microsoft Dynamics GP, rather than through mail to the district administrative offices; this significantly streamlines order fulfillment. Says Lemer, “With Microsoft Dynamics GP, schools can now get the supplies they need as fast as the vendor can get it to them. There is no paperwork or inter-school mail to get in the way. With Microsoft Dynamics GP, we have cut two days out of purchase order processing, which can make a big difference for our teachers.”
Support cost-effective growth
Since deploying Microsoft Dynamics GP, West Fargo Public Schools has grown in staff by almost 42 percent without having to add considerably more to its back-office operation. Fargo Public Schools has been able to control staffing while enhancing and improving the services it provides to its staff and community.
Meet Mark Lemer, Business Manager, West Fargo Public Schools Bringing his knowledge of school software systems to West Fargo Public Schools, Mark Lemer has since helped spearhead the effort to deploy Microsoft Dynamics GP. With the solution in place, the school district now benefits from a centralized ERP system to handle everything from HR to finance to payroll, along with a range of school-specific needs such as government reporting and teacher contract management.
Says Lemer, “While it had the functionality we needed, Microsoft Dynamics GP also fit with the technology we were already using, including Microsoft SQL Server, Microsoft SharePoint, Microsoft Word, and Microsoft Excel.”
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Because Microsoft Dynamics GP can draw on the information from our other systems, we have eliminated the need for manual data re-entry. Mark Lemer: Business Manager West Fargo Public Schools