What it means to 'fix the system'


Assistant Superintendent and Chief Financial Officer Amy Kunz writes about her drive to increase fiscal transparency in Hawaii's public school system. "We all want a world-class public education system. Let’s keep working — together — to give our kids, educators, staff and communities the schools they deserve." This piece ran in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser on Jan. 14, 2019.

Public schools budget information

Please visit the HIDOE's budget page for details on requests for the 2019-2021 fiscal biennium.

Amy KunzI came to the Hawaii DOE with a drive to “fix the system.”

In 2009, Furlough Fridays were imposed on Hawai‘i’s school system due to budget constraints, a casualty of the economic downturn that started the year before. My oldest son was in public elementary school where I was an engaged parent, serving on the school’s PTA and School Community Council. When schools statewide were closed for Furlough Fridays, I was right there with other parents and the public calling for more fiscal transparency in our school system and an audit of the books. Surely the funds to operate our schools could be found in this enormous statewide system — it’s the only reason this system exists! What’s the point of the system if schools aren’t open?

Two years later, I applied for and was named the Chief Financial Officer for the Hawaii DOE. I went immediately to work to learn its inner workings and build greater transparency into its fiscal reporting. 

It’s important to note: the public school system already had in place strong oversight and input relating to budgeting:

  • The Board of Education approves the HIDOE budget for submission to the Governor and Legislature;

  • School Community Councils (http://bit.ly/HIDOE-SCC), or SCCs, comprised of school staff, parents, students and interested community members, guide the crafting of the Academic Plans and Financial Plans at the school level to document their ongoing work (and spending!) to build excellent and equitable learning environments;

  • The Committee on Weights, comprised of school and state staff and community representatives from across the Islands, meets every other year to collaborate on adjustments to the primary mechanism by which we fund schools — the Weighted Student Formula (http://bit.ly/DOEWSF). The WSF establishes per-student funding that is increased according to various characteristics that require greater supports for students, as well as school-level base funding.

The Hawaii DOE’s financial statements are audited annually by a third party operating under the authority of the state’s Office of the Auditor. Every year, those audits note that our financial statements are clean. Each year, our auditors do a deep dive on the results with the Board, which is public record. Additionally, these audits are available on the HIDOE’s budget page (http://bit.ly/DOEbudget), where we also detail the state’s budget process and cycle, the Operating and Capital Improvements Program budgets, and how our spending compares nationally.

Our budget information is readily available, and our annual audits are clean. So what’s the problem? The problem is the data we provide is based on an accounting system that is more than two decades out of use, with program categories that can’t be easily updated or cycled out of the system because of downstream impacts to schools’ cash flow and budgeting that can last years. No amount of transparency about our numbers can fix the flaws in the underlying system. A $2 billion enterprise, with loads of complexities, requires an industry-standard Financial Management System (FMS).  

Fortunately, Superintendent Christina Kishimoto has taken an aggressive stance with modernizing HIDOE’s systems. This transformation has included launching the ServiceNow IT management system for easier access to tech support, and partnering with the state to update the payroll system (http://bit.ly/HawaiiPay), which went live for HIDOE last month. 

She has initiated the movement off Lotus Notes to Google for Education, starting with email and calendaring functions this summer. 

And she announced improved business practices and systems modernization for facilities management under Future Schools Now (http://bit.ly/HIDOE-FSN); it includes a CIP Project Tracker site, being beta-tested now, which will better track school maintenance projects (estimated cost and quantity) in the pipeline and establish a “systems of record.” A public version will be released next school year; imagine being able to search for and pull up-to-date information on design and construction contract amounts, the status of projects, and awarded vendors for the public schools in your community!

While these upgrades continue to be implemented, Supt. Kishimoto is gearing up to lead the overdue modernization of our FMS. We will be reaching out to our Board of Education, the financial committees of the Legislature, other State agencies, local banking and financial leaders, and our School Community Councils for their input around two key questions:

  • What capabilities will help decision makers support HIDOE’s mission?

  • How should the accounting system clarify budget allocations and expenditures?

A modern FMS will improve our legacy system by integrating school-level budgeting, speeding up procurement and payments, increasing internal controls, streamlining processes, and adding timely, dynamic financial reporting for how we expend taxpayer funds.

As the 2019 Legislative session opens and we begin discussing what our schools need for fiscal years 2019-2021, there will again be calls to “fix the system.” We all want a world-class public education system. Let’s keep working — together — to give our kids, educators, staff and communities the schools they deserve.

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