By Bob Kittle

Government should be run like a business, right?  Yes and no. There are some terrible businesses out there no that no one should emulate, yet there are some great practices from the private sector that can be easily incorporated into the ‘business of government’ to increase operational efficiencies.  Make no mistake, though; government – and for the sake of this discussion – the school you run, is a business. It has:

  • Revenue
  • Expenditures
  • Retained Earnings (fund balance)
  • Multiple assets, facilities and all the headaches that go along with them
  • Customers (students & parents)
  • Employees
  • Competitors
  • Regulations
  • Governance & Politics
  • Legal matters
  • A Chief Executive & Management Team

School superintendents typically begin their career trajectory armed with an education degree and traditional classroom teaching. Additional degrees are earned along the way, and some may even have a business focus, but when a superintendent lands in the First Chair, the duties appear daunting, more like a CEO than a school principal or teacher.  While they might have visions of super-igniting student outcomes from day one, that could all be usurped with the first fall count.  Other examples:

  • With a customer-first focus, the superintendent must educate students (the customers) and meet (or should I say, “exceed”?) the needs of parents, who are also customers. There is no tougher customer in the world than a parent, so superintendents right off the bat have a daily challenge to manage expectations while educating children and delighting their parents simultaneously.
  • There’s facilities management, with some school districts having upwards of 15 or more individual buildings in their domain. That’s enough boilers to make any superintendent lose sleep.
  • And staff? School districts (hence, superintendents) have the same attraction and retention issues that a corporation does, only more so, given the diminishing pay and benefits in the K-12 education field and the need to interact daily with customers. Yet, these staff (often numbering in the hundreds) must be developed, mentored, nurtured, and promoted to increasing levels of responsibility, just as they would be in the corporate world.
  • Competition? Once a rarely-discussed word in K-12 education, the hunt for students in a state with a currently stable but dwindling population is fierce – and requires a strategic response from the superintendent/CEO. Think of it as an “earnings call” with investors, where the CEO must explain why first-quarter earnings were down and what will be done to turn things around in the second quarter.

There are many other comparisons to draw between school districts and businesses, and superintendents as CEO, but for now, let’s close with some best practices:

  1. Remember your customers are your primary focus; keep them in mind with everything you do.
  2. Surround yourself with the best and brightest; respect and LEAD them well and by example. They are a close second to your customers, so create or strengthen a collegial culture where staff are supportive of each other and focused on a common goal: educating and delighting their customers.
  3. Know and pay attention to the numbers.
  4. Understand the district’s strengths and weaknesses, exploit the strengths and only deal with weaknesses that are disruptive.
  5. “Fix the damn roads.” Take care of your district infrastructure before it becomes cost prohibitive to do so. A business can’t open if the roof leaks and the toilets don’t flush.

Bob Kittle is the president and co-founder of Munetrix, a public sector solutions provider offering data management, analytics and reporting tools for public school districts, states and local governments. Contact him at Bob@Munetrix.com.