Large Districts Use Benchmarking Report to Save Millions of Dollars

Associate Editor

The latest in a series of benchmarking reports that have helped large districts save millions of dollars was released Thursday.

“Managing for Results in America’s Great City Schools, 2014” is a report from the Council of Great City Schools that gives district leaders a way to make decisions based on how their schools measure up in non-academic areas from procurement to school safety efforts, compared to data from other schools. The broad areas evaluated in the report include information technology, finance, business services like facilities and transportation, and human resources. By looking at their districts’ performance relative to that of their peers’ on hundreds of metrics in these areas, the leaders can decide where their schools have opportunities to improve.

Comparing the data can pay off. Michael D. Casserly, executive director of the council, wrote an article for School Business Affairs explaining specific examples, like economies in bus transportation that amounted to $1 million in savings in Orange County, Fla., and $200,000 a year in utilities savings in Albuquerque, N.M.

A common practice in the business world, using key performance indicators—or KPIs—involves identifying, gathering, and reporting the metrics that matter in getting the outcomes leaders want to achieve. For school officials, those measures might be “cost per student of new construction,” or “training hours per safety/security personnel,” or “transporation costs per rider.” Members of the council, a Washington-based organization that now represents 67 of the nation’s big-city school districts, have been tracking KPIs for a decade; the council’s most recent reports are available here. (Districts’ names are not attached to the data that are shared.)

Among the dozens of questions this year’s report investigates with its benchmarked data include:

  • Are there any signs that your district has a problem with cash flow?
  • How much district funding comes from grants?
  • How many miles do you report between preventable bus accidents?
  • How many drills does the crisis response team complete in a specific time period?
  • How many of your buildings are “green,” following the federal Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design green certification?
  • What is your retention rate among teachers hired five or fewer years ago?
  • How many devices (mixed-use computers and tablets) are available per student?
  • What is the bandwidth on your network per 1,000 students?

In the introduction to this year’s report, Casserly wrote that the council will continue to “develop new performance measures that spur accountability and improvements in urban public school systems.” .

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