Back-to-School: An Operational Perspective

Contrary to popular thoughts on “summers off” when it comes to schools, summertime is one of the busiest times for the business aspects of operating a school district. Learn what happens behind-the-scenes at Fargo Public Schools during June, July, and August.

by Fargo Public Schools Business Services Manager Broc Lietz

 

When you work in public education, summer “break” means something different to everyone. For certified staff who generally have a contract that spans the nine-month school year calendar, it may mean a time to decompress, re-energize the batteries, and then prepare for the next school year, which includes curriculum writing and professional development. Hopefully, this time of the year does include some down time and relaxation. As the spouse of a teacher, I know that this is not a time for doing “nothing;” I am certain educators often times cringe when they hear, “Oh, you’re a teacher; you have the summer off.”

For administrators at the building level, who generally have 11- or 12-month contracts, it may mean wrapping up one school year and preparing the building for the start of a new year. While they are certainly no less busy during the summer months, hopefully for this group there is a different, somewhat slower pace during the summer, as the buildings typically do not have students there during this time, or at least not as many as during the school year.

man removing carpet along wall of lockersFor central administration and specifically Business Services, summer is one of the busiest times of the year.  For this group, when they tell people they work for Fargo Public Schools, generally the first question employees hear is, “What do you do all summer?” I will try to explain.

The fiscal year-end for Fargo Public Schools is June 30. This means that on the accounting side of our operation, all of the financial transactions for one year must be closed while preparing for a new fiscal year to begin July 1. One of the challenges this presents is the extent of preparations required for a new school year, operating out of a new budget, while closing out the old one. As many of you may know, the Fargo Public Schools budgeting process starts in late fall each year in preparation for the next fiscal year. The “heavy lifting” of balancing the budget really ramps up in April and May of each year, with presentation to the Board of Education for preliminary budget approval in June or July and final approval in September. The work of closing the books each year also begins to take shape in April and May, as departments across the District finalize purchases. The major work comes in June and early July to record all year-end transactions and prepare for year-end reporting.

In the world of Operations and Maintenance, summer provides the time for deep cleaning at the building level, along with executing capital projects.  Certainly there are operational maintenance needs being addressed throughout the school year; however, most major capital projects are held for the period between June 1 and August 31.

Demolition in front of a brick buildingThis may include things such as parking lot repair/replacement, roof repair/replacement, window and mechanical systems maintenance/upgrades, and capital construction. This past summer saw two major capital projects come to completion:

  1. The new District Operations Center, located on 40th Avenue South. Although portions of Operations & Maintenance moved into the new building in late winter, the Print Shop and Central Kitchen moved once the 2016–17 school year was completed.
  2. District Office parking lot. For any of you who either worked in the D.O. or needed to visit the building during the summer months, you know that this project took on a life of its own.

One could assume that the FPS Human Resources, Transportation, and Nutrition Services departments are slower in the summer, since there are fewer employees to work with and few to no students to transport and feed. However, keep in mind that the highest turnover in employees happens at end of the school year, which means employee recruitment is most intense in late spring and early summer. August provides one of the busiest times for Human Resources as employee contract set up, finalized staffing, preparations for benefit open enrollment, and payroll setup become intense.

woman dumps ingredients into 91 gallon mixerPlanning, planning, and more planning is the theme for Transportation and Nutrition Services during the summer. In Transportation, new routes and schedules are determined, driver training, state reporting, and budgeting occurs. For Nutrition Services, purchasing, menu planning, hiring, and budgeting is the focus of central administration. Nutrition Services had the added twist of moving into a new facility, which included significant changes in process, proximity, and preparations as the entire Central Kitchen needed to be set up and tested prior to the start of the new school year on August 24.

As an organization that employs more than 1,800 full- and part-time employees, and an additional 1,400 temporary and seasonal staff members, and that educates nearly 11,400 students in 25 facilities, Fargo Public Schools is very complex and requires year-round planning and operational effort. For many in central administration and specifically Business Services, “back to school” means a return to normalcy: a routine, with known needs and regular daily efforts required. Summer break for this side of the organization means “all hands on deck” as we get the District ready for the start of another year.

 

Thank you for your continued efforts to make Fargo Public Schools a great place for students, staff, and the community to not only work, but also to receive an outstanding education. We all play a vital role in the ongoing success of our school district.