Productive Meetings

Productive Meetings

Productive Meetings

Productive Meetings by Joseph Tramontana

The benefit of productive meetings. There is nothing worse than an unorganized and unproductive meeting. This kills employee morale and is a big time waster. No one likes boring and prolonged meetings, so do not subject your staff to them. Be a friendly meeting organizer. Too many times executives will have meetings just because they feel the need to conduct them. It is time to think back and remember when you were sitting in the same “boring meeting” chair.

Before calling for a meeting ask yourself if, the issue can be handled through e-mail or perhaps even a few phone calls. Ask yourself if your support staff can handle the issue and report back their findings. Let’s be clear about what you’re trying to accomplish at the meeting and let’s not stray too far off topic. Send an agenda with a purpose and reiterate that purpose at the beginning of the meeting. Even if the meeting is scheduled for 45 minutes if you do not need the entire time then stop the meeting early. This is where time management skills are essential. Let’s face what is worse than an unproductive meeting is one that runs over its allotted time. Keep everyone focused on the purpose and topic of the meeting. Stop hour long meetings and cut them back to 45 minutes by staying on task and ending side conversations. Over the course of one month, you have saved yourself a great deal of time and energy.

Do not dominate the meeting allow and encourage input from co-workers. In addition, you will find the same people responding to your topics while others remain quiet. Encourage participation by asking direct questions, so you hear from everyone. Ask coworkers in a friendly way if they have anything to contribute to the conversation.
Productive and brief meetings that stay on topic will benefit your organization in many key ways.

Posted in A citizen's guide to school finance | Leave a comment

Working in Teams

Working in Teams

Working in Teams

Working in Teams Joseph Tramontana

Human beings are born to relate with each other and crave working in teams. There is an intuitive desire to work in groups. Our brains are so acclimated to relating with other humans that they handle shared victories and letdowns like physical enjoyments and discomforts. Rejection registers as a pain the same way you feel a strike to the body .Feelings of trust, association, and fitting in are important to employee performance. Working well with each other has increased employee interest, gratification, and commitment as well as performance.

Ultimately, companies would always be working together in teams but in many ways that just isn’t the case. There may be several meetings among co-workers but that does not mean they are working together in teams. There may be staff meetings with subordinates but that does not mean everyone is working together on the same project. Team building can potentially be one of the greatest predictors of employee performance, but is actually almost never practiced.

According to recent studies we should try the concept of working together at least in theory. Studies that put participants in small groups, in the beginning and were told they were working together, actually felt “togetherness.” Employees were told in a joint meeting that they would be solving a puzzle together, but they would be in separate rooms. This small distinction of being told they would be together worked longer on the project, were more accurate in their work, and improved their memory related to the task. The sense of being connected to a team also made the project much more enjoyable. All of these great positive findings was due to the fact the employees believed they were working together as a team. Apparently just the belief of working together triggers something in the brain centering on emotional feelings of camaraderie, trust and connectedness.

Leaders would be smart to organize their staff as working in teams even if it is only a belief. Let us face it there are times when it is not possible to really work in a team format. Some tasks and positions are not conducive to this. However, there can always be ways to reference the fact we are all working together and point out that the sum of the parts always make a greater whole.

Posted in A citizen's guide to school finance | Leave a comment

Organizational Change

Organizational Change

Organizational Change

Organizational Change by Joseph Tramontana

Organizational change management is leading an organization, team members and individuals through better future outcomes. One way is through a flatter organization where higher levels of management are reduced and combined. In simple terms, senior level managers are required to expand their skills, management and leadership. If we were using education as an example, instead of having a Director of Elementary and Secondary Education you would have one position responsible for both.A flatter organization over time will reduce costs, speed up decision making, communication and team building. A flatter organization is achieved by expanding the roles and responsibilities of senior level management. Senior staff must be made accountable along with combining higher level jobs.

Factors to consider are how fast the flattening of the organization should occur. The best approach is a well thought out plan. Of course, you would not want to combine positions in fields that are totally unrelated. In the example above you certainly could combine two educationally related positions. Certainly the philosophy of managing from the center and implementing a flatter structure could happen immediately. The other factors to consider is implementation. Is the process going to occur throughout the organization or just in certain areas? How much input will employees have in the process?

Flattening or delayering an organization will not be immediately popular with the employees. Therefore, it is recommended to solicit employee feedback, emphasize team building, and the cross-functional aspects. The process itself is full of potential landmines. Managers and subordinates will have to perform more work with no additional compensation. Monitoring employee performance will be extremely crucial. Organizational Change Management aligns and integrates teams and manages employee change through feed back and measurable performance.

Joseph Tramontana School Business Administrator

Posted in A citizen's guide to school finance | Leave a comment

Budget Forecasting

Budget Forecasting

Budget Forecasting

Budget Forecasting by Joseph Tramontana

Financial forecasting involves quantitatively projecting changes in future operations while analyzing the impact of trends and economic data. Current and historical data are used to estimate changes that may dramatically affect a school district’s ability to meet its goals. This is an important part of the planning process.Financial forecasting is important for several reasons.

Forecasting facility related issues, by quantifying future costs, is essential for both short term and long term planning. At some point if these issues are not addressed in the budget cycle they will eventually force a district into making emergency decisions. Forecasting can also identify trends that bring issues to the forefront that must be analyzed and evaluated during the budget process. Is revenue going down or is it stable? Are we containing salary and benefit costs or are they increasing by double digits? Finally, forecasts provide insights into important issues allowing administrators to be proactive instead of reactive. Forecasting is particularly important in setting a baseline during the budget process. Projecting student enrollment is critical in determining the costs of educational programming. Critical revenues such property taxes, surplus funds, and salary related expenses give a school district a baseline to begin building their budget. Salary and benefits are legal commitments that cannot be ignored.

Budget forecasting is an ongoing process and a critical part of budget development. Forecasting creates a model for reasonable assumptions to be made during the budget process. Projecting student enrollment, tax revenues, fund balance, salary and benefit increases are key elements in establishing a baseline for school districts. In addition, forecasting provides financial impact analysis that can be combined into the development of the budget. Current budgetary decisions should be evaluated for their long-term impact.

A variety of financial and related data are used for budget forecasting during the budget development process. These forecasts include, but are not limited to:

Enrollment – How does student enrollment impact state aid, class size, and future construction projects? Is their adequate space or too much?

Revenue – This really comes down to property taxes, state aid, and fund balance. A projection of three to five years is always a good idea.

General Fund Expenses – Salaries, contracts and benefits compromise close to ~80% of the budget. The projections of potential retirements, contracts and benefit trends should also be projected out three to five years.

Capital Costs – A long term facility plan and comprehensive maintenance plan are mandatory in all districts. What are the expenses to maintain school buildings and what capital projects need to be considered?

In preparing forecasting models, basic assumptions need to be made. These include levels of state and federal funding, inflation rates, class sizes, and surplus levels, etc. Historical data is used from a variety of sources to aid in the development of these assumptions.

Joseph Tramontana School Business Administrator

Posted in A citizen's guide to school finance | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Negotiations and Handshakes

Handshakes and Negotiations

Negotiations and Handshakes

Negotiations and Handshakes by Joseph Tramontana

When they require higher stakes, negotiations require a lot of detailed prep work by each party. Consider the recent negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program. Just before the controversial talks began; the U.S. President and Iranian President had one subject on the program. The one subject was organizing a handshake (1). Folks make presumptions about each other’s intentions based upon first impressions. This is the time it takes to form opinion’s regarding likeability, integrity, and capability.

Handshakes and eye contact display positive first impressions. In one research study, a firm handshake was positively linked to extraversion and psychological expressiveness and detrimentally related to shyness and neuroticism. Another study discovered that people that have a firm handshake and make eye contact receive greater job performance and interview ratings. Throughout many cultures, shaking hands at the beginning and end of a negotiating session communicates a need to interact and get to settlement (1).

In one study, carried out at Harvard’s and the University of Chicago; pairs of executives were asked to bargain a hypothetical real estate property deal. The execs had to negotiate one topic; the price of the land. One one-half of the executives was provided particular instructions to shake hands, and the other half were given no guidance. The bottom line is the side that was asked to shake hands bargained a much better win-win scenario as compared to those that did not (1).

Negotiations are difficult and controversial. There are high stakes and emotions involved. It is important to recognize how important human emotions are in the entire process.

(1) “To Negotiate Effectively, First Shake Hands – Francesca Gino …” N.p., n.d. Web. 8 June 2014 .

Joseph Tramontana Business Administrator

Posted in A citizen's guide to school finance | Leave a comment

Leadership Skills

Leadership Skills

Leadership Skills

Leadership Skills Critical for Success by Joseph Tramontana

There are many leadership skills which are critical for success. How many times do we review these skills and integrate them into our daily life? We can all use some practice and this list is a great start.


The first step is to identify the strengths of your team and know how to capitalize on them. Communicate with your team and find out what their capabilities are and what they actually enjoy doing. Matching up skills with preferences leads to a happy employee and successful team member. Do not get in the habit of micro managing. Delegate appropriate tasks so you can focus on the big picture and your most important functions.


Clear communication with your team is vital to success. Your plans and vision may be clear to you, but is it clear to your staff? When was the last time you had a deep conversation to make sure they really understand? Pay close attention to their body language to make sure they really understand.

Humor and Confidence

You may lose a major account or your building may have a flood. If your in business long enough, unpleasant events are bound to happen. However, if you panic your team may quickly become upset and discouraged. Stay calm, cool and collected and keep smiling. This attitude will become contagious and will get you through rough periods. There may be days where your future is uncertain and your plans have changed. This is a fact with any organization, so the critical thing is not to panic. A leader’s job is to solve difficult problems while maintaining morale.

Commitment and Intuition

If you expect your team to produce quality work than you must lead by example. Let your team see you work right alongside them, even if the task is unpleasant. Show that hard word is being done on every level and this will inspire and motivate the rest of your co-workers. If you decide to set up a time to socialize with your staff, stick with it. Commitment shows through on every level.

Decisions are not always so straight forward. There are times when you must make important decisions quickly. This is where your creativity and intuition will prove to be critical. During these times it is important to think outside the box and to choose the best option. Trust your intuition and instinct, because the world is filled with uncertainty and risk. There are times when you will lead a team through uncharted waters and there are no maps to show you what to do. When the unexpected occurs, your team will look to you for guidance.


Everyone may not want to admit it, but on some level they want and need to be appreciated. Make sure you personally take the time to recognize employees that work hard and are doing a great job. The recognition can be formal or you can just stop by their cubicle and personally have a few kind words. It is amazing how little time can go so far.

Take some time to reflect on these leadership skills and integrate them into your daily routine.

Business Administrator Joseph Tramontana

Posted in A citizen's guide to school finance | Leave a comment

Government Fund Accounting

Government Accounting

Government Accounting

Government Fund Accounting Principles by Joseph Tramontana

Government Fund accounting always begins with basic principles. Formal governmental accounting started in 1934 and was formerly established as the Governmental Accounting Standards Board (GASB) in 1984. The GASB functions under the guidance of the Financial Accounting Foundation. The GASB is the primary accounting financial reporting standard for all local governmental bodies. The American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) reaffirmed the GASB’s authority by designating the GASB as the body to establish financial accounting principles for local governmental entities.

There are twelve basic principles of accounting applicable to local governments, but today we will start with the first two.

Principle 1 Accounting and Reporting Capabilities

A governmental accounting system must make it possible both: (a) to present fairly and with fully disclose the financial position and results of financial operations of the funds and account groups of the governmental unit in conformity with generally accepted accounting principles; and (b) to determine and demonstrate compliance with finance related legal and contractual provisions.

Principle 2 Fund Accounting Systems

Governmental accounting systems should be organized and operated on a fund basis. A fund is defined as a fiscal and accounting entity with a self balancing set of accounts, recording cash and other financial resources, together with all related liabilities and residual balances. To put it simply each fund must be in balance. If you have cash coming in, which is an asset, there must be a corresponding liability that balances out. If the expenditure is less then the remainder is called “Fund Balance.” Assets = Liabilities + Fund Balance. In many ways this form of accounting provides greater detail than private sector methods. All local government budgets are all based on Fund Accounting Principles.

Fund financial statements should be used to report additional and detailed information about the primary government, included its blended component units. The largest fund by far is the government’s general fund where you will find salaries and benefits and all major governmental operations.

Joseph Tramontana Hamilton New Jersey

Posted in A citizen's guide to school finance | Leave a comment

School District’s Financial Obligations

Financial Obligations

School District’s Financial Obligations

School District’s Financial Obligations by Joseph Tramontana

A straight forward way to measure the financial health of a school district is to measure its short term obligations. There is a relatively simple financial ratio that anyone can use to assess the financial health of a government entity. The way you measure short term obligations is you simply compare current assets to current liabilities. The question then becomes does your district have enough liquid resources to cover its obligations due next year? I would only include government activities, because business operations generally do not support the general fund.

When we speak about liquidity we are talking about cash and/or money market instruments. This assumes that current receivables can’t be liquidated quickly enough to cover current liabilities. This is a more conservative indicator of your district’s ability to meet its financial obligations. This is why we use cash and money market instruments as benchmarks.

Current assets that are three times the amount of current liabilities appears to be a healthy ratio but ultimately this is best left up to individual districts as this can vary greatly district to district. Once a baseline is established it is beneficial to compare the ratio to see if a district’s financial condition is improving or worsening.

This is one useful and straightforward way of analyzing the financial health and conditions of a school district.

Joseph Tramontana Business Administrator Hamilton NJ

Posted in A citizen's guide to school finance | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Common Core Update

Common Core Standards

Common Core by Joseph Tramontana

The Common Core debate in Indiana rages on. Indiana was the first state to opt out of Federal Common Core standards in favor of a local based program. Critics are questioning if they planned the move properly. Indiana first signed up for the Federal Common Core program in 2010, in order to secure “Race to the Top” Federal Funding. The application slowly fell apart mainly because of the fierce resistance it met from powerful teacher unions (1). Indiana’s governor at the time, John R. Gregg, was a proponent of Common Core and when he lost his election bid Common Core lost much of its political power.

The Federal Government, at the same time, gave States the opportunity to opt out of the poorly designed “No Child Left Behind Act”. The caveat was that now they had to agree to strict federal monitoring requirements. Indiana is now scrambling last minute to make sure their local Common Core program meets Federal Guidelines. Indiana is considering doubling or tripling standardized tests for their students in order to remain in compliance (1).

Indiana is now getting criticized from local common core advocates because their home grown program apparently is almost exactly the same as the Federal Government’s Common Core. In addition, they are going to spend millions in implementation costs (2). A Common Core critic Sandra Stotsky, a professor in Alaska, said state officials have so far created a “warmed-over version of Common Core’s standards” for English language arts. Concern, she said, comes from a state analysis that the source of proposed English standards for Grades 6-12 is more than 90 percent from Common Core (2).

Indiana Common Core proponents may have reacted too quickly and now developed a program that it not much different than the program they were running from.

(1) National Review Online
(2) Indiana Star

Joe Tramontana Hamilton New Jersey

Posted in A citizen's guide to school finance | Leave a comment

Political Barriers to Change

Political Barriers to Change

Politcal Barriers to Change

Political Barriers to Change by Joseph Tramontana

The political barriers to changing schools. School districts may have the best plans and ideas, but you must have cooperation of the governing body. One can hope that school board members will make the best decisions for the students, but many times that is hardly the case. The structure of the School Board election cycle does not help matters either. School Board elections are every year and many members will make decisions based upon winning re-election. Special interests also can play a huge role such as powerful teacher unions and political parties. The pressure can be insurmountable.

In most cases, there has been a lack of citizen participation is School Board Elections. Elections that were held in April, for the last decade, had extremley low voter participation. Does this lack of participation mean the voters really don’t care? It is difficult to say, but the data is hard to refute.

I am also not a proponent of government enforcing decisions, but I in some cases it can be very helpful. For example, many school districts could not contain property taxes, salary increases and/or benefit costs. In New Jersey this problem was corrected through legal powers and this forty year problem was solved. Property taxes are now capped which in turn reduces salary costs and employees are now mandated to pay more for their benefits.

The same type of intervention can be applied to school board member selection, which could provide for better governance. Legislation could be passed allowing the Town’s Mayor to appoint school board members along with certain restrictions. The restrictions would mean that a broad range of community leaders would need to be represented. Here is the potential breakdown for a district with nine board members:

• Local PTA President or delegate
• President, Chamber of Commerce or delegate
• Republican Party Appointee
• Democratic Party Appointee
• Private sector representative
• Teacher Union Representative
• Principal’s Union Representative
• Small Business Community Leader
• Recent College Graduate that attended the local school system

This system would alleviate the political pressure because there would be no more re-elections to be concerned about. The citizens would still play a large role through electing their Mayor. In addition, elected leaders would not be able to say; “Well we really have no control over the school board.”

Removing the political barriers to change is essential to an effective and productive school district.

Joe Tramontana School Administrator NJ

Posted in A citizen's guide to school finance | Leave a comment