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Urban District Group Offers Management Tool for School Operations

The Council of the Great City Schools, which represents 67 of the nation's urban school districts, is launching its first commercial venture by selling a management tool that allows district financial and information officers to track key performance indicators in their school systems.

Previously, only members of the Washington-based organization could use the tool, called ActPoint KPI Performance Management System. Members will still have access to the tool for free, but other school districts will be able to purchase the system based on their own needs.

Why would a school district want to use this program? Michael D. Casserly, the executive director of the council, said the tool was built to meet the specific needs of school district officials, who played a major role in its creation. "This was not an academic exercise," Mr. Casserly said in an interview. "This was driven by practitioners in the field who had to run these very large-scale programs."

The performance indicators are clustered in four main non-instructional areas of school district management: business services, which includes programs such as food service, transportation and procurement; finance and budgeting; information technology; and human resources and personnel. There are 300 key performance indicators available, but districts will be able to select packages of 50 or 100 indicators if they do not want to buy the entire package.

The performance indicator tool grew out of a desire from district chief financial officers and chief district officers to be able to compare and analyze data to ensure that they were spending money effectively. By 2006, the first set of indicators were put forward, and there have been periodic modifications since then. Casserly wrote an article about the tool in a 2011 issue of School Business Affairs magazine, offering some examples of how school districts had used the tool. From the article:

In Chicago, for example, district leaders are using benchmarking data from [key performance indicators] to create performance metrics for each of what they call 'cost centers,' such as transportation and food service. The school board of Boston Public Schools is making KPIs a key tool for decision-making, and [Orange County Public Schools] is using the system to benchmark departments against those in similar districts as part of a value-added scorecard system that will track progress toward key operational goals.

The American Institutes for Research, at the request of the council, also surveyed urban districts to find out how many were using the performance indicators to inform district decision-making. Among the urban "super-users" of the tool, according to the AIR report, were Anchorage, Alaska; Cincinnati and Dayton, Ohio; and Kansas City, Mo.

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