Academic journal article T H E Journal (Technological Horizons In Education)

Software System Offers Ariz. School Districts an Integrated Source of Financial Information

Academic journal article T H E Journal (Technological Horizons In Education)

Software System Offers Ariz. School Districts an Integrated Source of Financial Information

Article excerpt

Arizona's Maricopa county - the sixth largest in the U.S. - had a problem: It needed to provide financial and payroll services to 58 school districts, but its 27-year-old computer system was dying a slow death. A replacement system was urgently required; continuing to use the old one posed dual risks of losing data and losing service if the system went down, as obtaining parts for it was both difficult and expensive.

Complicating the county's dilemma was the extreme diversity of its "customers," which ranged from a single school district with 24 students to districts with as many as 65,000 students and multi-million dollar budgets.

When the county finally decided to upgrade its hardware, it realized that it should also purchase new software. Historically, the services provided by the county consisted only of check processing and payroll. Ideally, officials wanted their new system to offer a complete financial management package to school districts.

* Combining Resources

In examining its options, the county learned that many Maricopa districts were effectively using a program called Comprehensive Information Management for Schools III (CIMS III) on IBM As/400s. Officials explored the feasibility of having the other districts adopt CIMS, developed by National Computer Systems (NCS) of Minneapolis, Minn.

After consulting with NCS, the county purchased an AS/400 and the CIMS financial and employment management software systems. This configuration enabled all districts that lacked the hardware and software to connect to an integrated multi-user system.

The revamped system greatly enhances the services provided by Maricopa County. Besides standard payroll functions, the new system offers budgeting, general ledger, forecasting and full-fund accounting, including purchasing, receiving and accrual management capabilities.

* Localized Responsibility

In short, the system requires individual schools to be responsible for all accounting processes. While these new responsibilities require personnel to undergo additional training, it allows schools to make better-informed financial decisions. Schools can immediately see the results of their transactions, giving them greater confidence in their data.

"Now I can provide my superintendent with up-to-the-minute data and have confidence in those numbers," says Jeff Seimer, the business manager at Wilson School District in Phoenix. "Before we had the CIMS system, it took me more hours to et the data compiled... [Now] individual schools have much more control and reliability.

"By having all the schools in the county on one system and doing our own financial management, we are able to focus more attention on educating - our real mission," Seimer adds. …

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