In a year of change, the world as we know it faces unprecedented challenges. Schools, in particular, are adapting in record time to business management challenges.
Of course, technology affects many of those management and leadership challenges in schools. From online registration to scheduling to payment processing and revenue projection, cloud-based technology can help schools stay competitive, adhere to the educational mission, and balance the budget.
Thoughtful school business management (SBM) can help navigate those challenges facing school management generally.
What Is School Business Management?
If you're wondering what does a business manager do in a school, anyway, you're in luck. According to the National Association of Independent Schools, the school business officer ensures your school or childcare program runs well from a business standpoint.
As you know, the functions of school business management are complex. It juggles students, faculty, staff, trustees, budgets, financial reports, cash management, government regulations, and more. There are dozens of budget categories to manage without losing sight of the school's critical educational mission. Then there are all the interpersonal relationships to manage.
The school business manager offers both day-to-day and strategic financial guidance to a school. They provide a critical view of budget and accounting issues on both the macro and micro levels, so the school meets its requirements.
The business manager role comes with a variety of titles. Sometimes also known as the bursar, finance director, or resources manager, their role is to ensure all the school's business and operating functions run smoothly.
As an administrator of the school budget, the school business manager keeps the board informed, handles revenue projections, and follows procurement protocols, among other tasks.
However, the role also may encompass human resources functions and other leadership responsibilities. An article in The Guardian says the role of the school business manager (SBM) is one of the fastest-growing professions in education. It's not surprising really. As school business management grows more complex, it's important to have administrators pay extra attention to the financial aspects of running a school.
Prior to the SBM, schools had a headmaster, a secretary, and possibly accounting, admission, and advancement professionals. These days, you're likely also to find a Directors of Technology and Directors ofCurriculum alongside finance directors or business managers. Many schools are increasingly run like business enterprises and like every business, they need oversight in different departments.
Depending on the school, the SBM role can be a broad title for everything that touches the budget, from transportation logistics to the copy center. At others, it might focus more on strategic financial planning and day-to-day accounting duties. A quick glance at job descriptions of school business managers on Indeed can give you a range of responsibilities.
No matter the responsibilities, the bottom line is an SBMi s a specialist who keeps an eye on the bottom line. That way, other school leaders can focus on the students and their areas of expertise to create the best performing school possible.
Why School Business Management is Important
In this era of doing more with less, it takes a watchful eye to stretch school budgets and remain competitive. The business manager's role oversees everything from assessing faculty compensation to financial accounting.
Without strong business leadership, educational institutions are at risk of failing their students and can struggle to remain solvent.
The school business manager guards against such problems and takes a proactive stance. They always look for the school's changing needs and seek ways to make it more efficient and cost-effective.
In today's world, these are likely to be multi-pronged efforts. For instance, if enrollment is down, then the SBM will look for ways to boost it as well as look at other ways to increase income. Some schools have found new income streams by renting out parts of their facilities, for example.
In other instances, it's finding creative ways to reduce costs in other ways. For example, your school business manager may recommend reducing your tech stack and moving to cloud-based software that automates billing, payments, and also communicates with your families and tracks attendance. Depending on your current process, that could save hours of administrative time every week as well as money and thus free up resources for other things.
How You Can Prioritize School Business Management
You probably recognize the challenges of financial management in schools and see how a dedicated role can help your school. After all, effectively managing the business of schools is critical in remaining competitive in today's landscape.
For example, many schools are pouring resources into e-learning right now. For many of them, it requires an overhaul of teaching methods, not to mention new technology infrastructure. A good SBM can help your school face the business challenges of balancing professional development, curriculum needs, and infrastructure cost-effectively.
If your SBM can find savings of even 1 to 2 percent per year, it can positively affect the bottom line of your organization.
According to the Institute of School Business Leadership, "School business managers make a significant contribution to the effective financial management of a school, saving on average 20–33 per cent of a head teacher’s time and covering their own salary in savings. Obtaining the services (shared or full time) of a high quality business manager should be a priority for all governors and head teachers ...”
So the question isn't DO you prioritize school business management but HOW to make or a priority.
One way is to assess where the gaps are in your current leadership.Every school has a unique blend of personalities and challenges. Some are in the midst of a big transition in leadership or adapting technology to meet learning needs, while others might be contemplating a new curriculum for their students.
Strong business management can help you build or (rebuild) stronger, no matter what leadership and management challenges your school faces.
An Example School Business Management
The right school business manager can bring a fresh perspective to your school's challenges. Imagine, for example, SBM Robin Hughes' experience. He shared his findings when his school brought catering in-house. Prior, the school had students leaving campus for lunch. This is disruptive, not to mention a legal concern.
By visiting area schools with a higher quality lunch program, he realized there was an opportunity. They advertised and received high-quality applications. Once they implemented a delicious lunch option, they found a larger number of those students stayed on-campus. Not only did this solve the concern of having the students leave campus, but they also created a new profit center.
It's the gift of an outside perspective that can bring such solutions.
However, it's certainly helpful to define known challenges if you haven't already. That will help guide your efforts at adapting a clear job description that will attract candidates who will compliment your current leadership team.
To do so, you can meet with your school's leadership team and read through current job descriptions on sites like Indeed. Those can help you assess the gaps in your current team and help spark discussion about what they think would be helpful in school business management. Additionally, you may find it helpful to talk it over with other school leaders who already have a business manager in place and share their experiences with you and your leadership team.
That way, you'll gain a sense of "what's possible," with a school business manager. For example, what it would mean to your school to feel confident in your strategic financial plan? Or to redistribute some of the existing responsibilities so your school leadership isn't spread as thin?
Tips for Getting Started with School Business Management
Many school business managers either come from other schools or from finance or business backgrounds. The field is still new, so some take additional training while working to help them develop further knowledge and areas of expertise. Networking with other SBM's can help them learn and broaden their perspectives too.
An excellent SBM has a blend of interpersonal skills, integrity, and accounting knowledge. They'll need to be able to prioritize tasks and focus on strategic, long-term financial planning while still meeting the needs of the current students and faculty.
Sounds like a tall order, doesn't it?
When looking for a school business manager, the National Association of Independent Schools offers a list of guidelines for best practices. Some of those guidelines include:
- Find a professional who is mission-driven. In an educational framework, the mission and standards must always guide decision-making.
- Adhere to government regulations.
- Look long-term to the future health of the organization.
- Prioritize fiscal responsibility, maintain confidentiality, and practice high integrity with each level of school policy.
As you can see, the SBM plays a crucial leadership role in your organization's future. The school business manager touches on every facet of business and operations to ensure a high-value position that will help your school grow and provide the best education possible for your students. As you prioritize this role, you're bound to find new possibilities that will help streamline your school's operations and even find new streams of income.
Especially during this time of intense change, there's an opportunity to be proactive with school management challenges, and hiring a school business manager will help.