The crowning achievement of the school board’s performance monitoring committee during its first year of operation was a complete overhaul of the quarterly financial report to the board, which was unveiled at the fourth meeting of the new fiscal year. The report had traditionally consisted of 20-some pages so chock-full of rows and columns of numbers that it defied easy understanding – indeed, was a bit overwhelming. Even the most financially-savvy board members occasionally found themselves confused while thumbing this nearly impenetrable tome. With the strong support of the superintendent and his chief financial officer over the course of three intensive work sessions, the performance monitoring committee had come up with a far more comprehendible report consciously intended to bring board members painlessly up to speed on the district’s finances while also educating the public at large since the board’s meetings were televised. The content of the financial report was re-ordered – organizing specific objects of expenditure by major functions within the district’s eight cost centers. An executive summary consisting of bar charts showing actual versus budgeted expenditures for the quarter by major cost centers and identifying significant developments and emerging trends was put on PowerPoint slides for presentation at the board business meeting, with the detailed report available as backup.
The unveiling of the far more informative and understandable financial report was anything but business-as-usual, since in keeping with the updated governing policies developed by the board’s governance committee and adopted by board resolution, beginning in the new fiscal year, all standing committee reports were to be presented by committee chairs rather than executive team members. So the chair of the performance monitoring committee would be presenting the upgraded financial report, rather than the CFO as in the past. Although the new chair of the committee was pretty apprehensive about standing up in the board meeting and presenting the PowerPoint slides, the superintendent and CFO, who was the official “Chief Staff Liaison” to the committee, had made sure she was well-prepared, going over the report with her with a fine tooth comb the week before and setting up a “dress rehearsal” with the senior administrative team so she could do a complete run-through and answer questions from the group. Her inaugural presentation at the board meeting was an unqualified success. She was obviously comfortable with the slide content, and she was able to turn to the CFO at her side when she couldn’t answer a question fully. She wasn’t just pleased that she’d acquitted herself well in a public meeting, she was ecstatic.
This true story is about much more than significantly upgrading financial reporting to the school board. It’s also about a really board-savvy superintendent who, recognizing that the chair of the performance monitoring committee was a key stakeholder, transformed her into a strong supporter and reliable partner. How? Very simply by making the effort to provide her with significant non-monetary compensation: the satisfaction of successfully presenting a complex report in a public board meeting. It could easily have been an opportunity lost; the superintendent could have helped the committee come up with a much more effective report, without giving a thought to staging the committee chair. But he was too board-savvy not to capitalize on the opportunity to solidify his relationship with his chair.