Professional Service Contracts Part Two

Professional Service Contracts by Joseph Tramontana

Professional Service Contracts by Joseph Tramontana

Professional Service Contracts by Joseph Tramontana

This blog post is the second in a five part series regarding professional service contracts. Last week we talked about making the list of vendors expansive as possible. The more choices that are available means there will be more competition, which is known to drive down costs.

This article discusses the topic known as Statement of Work or Scope of Work (SOW). The SOW is simply a well-written guide regarding the actual service that you want to procure. The document should be so well written and clear that no one would have any doubt about the service the vendor is bidding on. The SOW is the first opportunity for the contracting unit to explain to the potential competitors exactly what they want to be done. A clearly written document will elicit more vendors competing and more importantly competing for the exact work the contracting unit wants.

In addition to clarity, the SOW needs to be complete and specific. An accurate scope of work can be accomplished by working with the department that needs the work done. If you’re hiring a labor attorney than it is a good idea to reach out to the Human Resources Director for his/her input on the scope of work that needs to be done. The Purchasing Department should actively seek input from the intended beneficiaries. Another common mistake is that contracting units tend to focus on the process they wish to see the vendor use. Instead, the contracting unit should emphasize the results they want to see achieved and let the vendor use their process in getting the results.

A clearly written scope of work that emphasizes results will go a long way in assuring that you find the right company that performs the right tasks. This saves money in the long run by assuring you hire the right company at the right price.

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Professional Service Contracts Part One

Professional Service Contracts by Joseph Tramontana

Professional Service Contracts by Joseph Tramontana

Professional Service Contracts by Joseph Tramontana

This article will be part one in a series and will discuss procurement best practices. The contracts that lend themselves to the most scrutiny are Professional Service Contracts. Professional Service contracts do not have to go to the lowest bidder. In contrast, purchasing goods is much different than procuring professional services. If I am ordering a car and I write detailed specifications about the requirements of the product, I can usually award the contract to the lowest responsible bidder.

Awarding a professional service contract to a law firm is more difficult, because you do not have to go with the lowest price. Subjective issues such as experience and skills come into play. The company with the lowest bid does not always get the award. Sometimes a higher priced firm can save you money. The problem is when you do not select the lowest bidder, and you failed to document the process that you used. Poor documentation leads to challenges by other firms and public scrutiny.

One best practise is that the list of vendors should be expansive as possible, and most experts agree that public bidding must promote and provide for open and full competition. A large list of potential firms, in most cases, pushes down the price of the service. The way to achieve this result is to advertise in places where potential vendors will see the opportunity. Direct mail and advertising on related websites are two great ways to expand the field. Related association websites are a great idea. For example, if you needed a Labor Attorney advertise on popular websites related to Labor Law. Another great and affordable website, visited by experienced governmental practitioners, is the New Jersey Leauge of Municipalities. In all cases, you have to be proactive in your efforts to assure you have an ample amount of vendors from which to choose.

Joseph Tramontana Business Administrator

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Accounting Classification Systems

Accounting Classification

Accounting Classification

Accounting Classification Systems by Joseph Tramontana

Accounting classification systems are ways to collect financial data during the actual operation of the government or school district. The data, once collected, can be organized in a way that anyone can understand the financial condition of the district.

The classification of data is called Chart of Accounts. The Chart of Accounts is a road map, and its purpose is to find data easily. The minimum chart of accounts means that every school district must report the same expenditure the same exact way, so data can be easily compared on a statewide basis. The best way to learn the process is by example. The major expenditure classifications are as follows: Fund, Program, Object and Function.

General Fund (Current Expense) This Accounts for all expenditures of the district for current expenses including instruction.

The program classification describes the program and accounts for all related expenses for a particular program including instruction costs.

The purpose of the function classification describes the activity that is being done and in this example the activity is instruction.

The purpose of the object classification is to describe the service obtained as the result of a specific expenditure. In this example, the service obtained is instructing students.

If you wanted to know the total amount spent in salaries for kindergarten teachers, it would look something like this.

11-110-100-101. The 11 will always account for the current expense. The 110 is a program and in this example the program is Kindergarten. The function or activity in this case is instruction, and the instruction classification will always be 100. Finally, the object or result of our expenditure are teacher’s salaries. The code for teacher salaries will always be 100 broken down in subcodes. In this example, all Kindergarten teachers were listed in 101.

In conclusion, all across the State of New Jersey use the same accounting classification systems and you will find the salaries of Kindergarten teachers located in the same account and classified as 11-110-100-101.

Joseph Tramontana Business Administrator

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E-Mail as a Communication Tool

EMAIL

EMAIL

E-Mail as a Communication Tool by Joseph Tramontana

This post deals with using E-Mail as an effective communication tool. A former supervisor of mine never responded to an e-mail in the ten years I worked with him. I use to think that it was crazy. I mean we live in a technological world, and everyone uses email, right? It is a fast method of communication in a world where things need to be done yesterday. Every complex and politically sensitive issue was communicated face to face.

He may have been right in many ways. It has been proven time and time again that every E-Mail can be retrieved and once you hit the send button it is a permanent document. If you reply in writing make sure it is something you are comfortable with and you do not mind the whole world reading it, because that is what can happen.

E-Mail does have its uses though and can be a valuable tool if used appropriately. I do not recommend shutting it down totally. The best advice when someone sends you a serious E-Mail related to your work is to step back and reflect, especially if it makes you angry. If you respond immediately, more times than not you will regret it. If the e-mail is serious and time sensitive just acknowledge it. “Hey got it will get back to you.” If the issue is urgent, the ideal setting is a face to face meeting or the second best choice is a phone call.

The best use of the E-Mail process is setting up appointments or meetings with various clients. It can be a great time saver as opposed to calling everyone on the telephone. Another great use of E-Mail is to transmit business documents such as spreadsheets to various parties in preparation for meetings. Serious topics deserve serious attention and do not have a place in the E-mail chain; they need to be discussed face to face. Even more problematic is the potential to be put something in writing you will later regret and once you hit the send button you can never take it back. These are some of the best ways to use E-Mail as a communication tool.

Joseph Tramontana Business Administrator

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Communication on the Front Lines

Communication

Communication on the Front Lines.

Communication on the Front Lines by Joseph Tramontana

There needs to be strong communication on the front lines in school districts. A Chief School Administrator generally has many supervisory layers under him/her. The communication chain from the top directly to the teacher or parent can be quite long. School leadership may overly depend on a long chain of command, when it comes to the communication process. Generally communications are filtered through the principals, directors, and supervisors regarding critical issues. However, as social scientists have always taught us, the information that can become skewed before it reaches its final destination.

The goals and objectives of a school district need to clearly understood by the front line employees and the parents for success to be realized. Leaders must deeply understand the needs of front line employees and the parents. The Chief School Administrator must have direct and regular communication with the teaching staff. This way they directly know the problems of the teaching staff and the expectations of the parents. Communicating directly with the teaching staff and parents also provides critical information and in many cases reveals creative solutions to problems.

This can start by regularly attending teacher staff meetings, without the Principal present, and find out directly what is going on in the trenches instead of relying on other interpretations. The same can be said for communicating directly with parents. Regular attendance at PTA meetings, where the Superintendent can listen to questions and concerns directly from parents, is a great idea as well.

When you listen to the front line school employees and parents you empower them as well. They begin to feel they are part of the decision-making process. Communicate your goals and strategies to the parents, students and teachers. In addition, listen directly to their problems and concerns on a regular basis. Then you will be armed with the information to make meaningful change, because you developed strong communication on the front lines.

Joseph Tramontana Business Administrator

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Budget Development

Budget Development

Budget Development

Budget Development by Joseph Tramontana

The purpose of budget development is a method of earmarking resources in order to attain strategic goals. Districts should engage in budget development in order to reach their goals, control spending, and monitor cash flow. The obstacles to all of this is that it is hard to map out the future with perfect accuracy. Changing revenues and unpredictable expenses make budget development more complex and intricate. It is critical to link the allocation of expenses to district goals. How do these expenditures help with improving test scores? How will these expenditures improve our facilities or technology programs? The expense side of the budget expresses how resources will be allocated and should measure actual progress. If your goal is to improve test scores and you earmark money toward this goal it is important to measure progress. The questions that need to be asked is what is working and what is failing. The budget development process is always more effective when linked to overall strategy. This gives directors and principals a clear understanding of strategic goals and how the money is being spent. This understanding leads to greater support for goals, better coordination of strategies and ultimately stronger district performance. Districts that apply best practices realize that communication among the staff, budget committee and board members play and critical role. District leadership must take the lead in developing and communicating the district’s strategic goals and how the budget will finance them. In order to develop those goals, district leadership needs input from directors, principals, board members, teaching staff and the public. Districts that establish effective channels for communication find it easier to set challenging and achievable strategic goals.

Setting goals before the budget process even begins makes it easier for budget development. Budgets which are created to support strategic goals need fewer revisions. Budget development then becomes not only faster and less costly but also far less frustrating. All districts realize that competition for resources is inevitable. Every department and division needs funding for both capital and operating expenses and most times in excess of what is actually available. This makes it immensely important for school districts to design policies and procedures in order to allocate resources in order to support district goals and needs.

Joseph Tramontana Business Administrator

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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.

Joseph Tramontana

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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.

Joseph Tramontana Business Administrator

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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

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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

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