Network of 15 charter schools relies on cloudbased fund accounting to navigate budget hurdles.
Acero Schools in Chicago faced one change after another: management transitions, union renegotiations, and bank refinancing. The charter school network needed the right fund accounting solution to drive operations forward without affecting its lauded curriculum that serves 7,600 students.
First came a management transition, followed closely by union negotiations, and then bank refinancing soon after. Despite the series of events, Acero Schools continued to be one of the highest ranked charter school networks, as it served 7,500 students from kindergarten through twelfth grade, employed a staff of 750, and managed close to $100 million in revenue.
“We’ve had lot of change in the last couple of years,” explained Chief Financial Officer Michael Bradley. “A number of budget cuts have forced us to think about how to do more with less. First and foremost, you need great folks on your team; then you have to think about the system you’re using. Blackbaud Financial Edge NXT represents the engine for our department, so everything feeds into it.”
Saving Time Every Month
Acero Schools’ finance team uses Blackbaud’s fund accounting solution for general ledger management to support its school operations. The school also generates standard reports related to its bonds and banking relationships,
plus routine reporting to stakeholders.
“I like that [Blackbaud] Financial Edge NXT is cloud-based,” Bradley said. “Sometimes my team needs to be a little more flexible. We’re all pulled in many directions these days.”
Blackbaud Financial Edge NXT also eased Acero Schools’ transition into campus-based budgeting, which affords each school principal autonomy to spend money in a way that drives student achievement. “Principals used to have no accounting insight; that was done in an isolated way,” Bradley said. “Our CEO’s vision was to be more transparent, and that’s all connected to [Blackbaud] Financial Edge NXT. We’re able to upload data every week so principals can see status and performance.”
After migrating to Blackbaud Financial Edge NXT, Acero Schools shaved nearly two weeks off its monthly processing—closing books within 18 days instead of a full month. “We certainly have been able to significantly improve the month-end close process and do better data analytics as a result,” Bradley said. He hopes to reduce that time further to 15 days or fewer.
Planning for Integrations, Customizations
As the Acero Schools network plans for both an audit and implementation of the next collective bargaining agreement, its finance team will rely on Blackbaud’s technology to simplify operations. “The reality is we’re going to have to figure out how to continue doing what we’re doing, possibly with fewer resources, and I have faith that we’re going to figure it out,” Bradley said. “We absolutely have to rely on a good system to do that.”
Bradley and his team plan to take advantage of customizations to Blackbaud Financial Edge NXT and integrations with other Blackbaud solutions to streamline their work. “If we do our job right, our work will be considered boring,” he said. “When there’s too much conversation about budget, that usually means something has gone awry.”
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