Going Paperless in the Back Office
Deck: Idaho Falls streamlined its paperwork process by using a new software upgrade.
By Blake Smith
As school administrators know, it isn’t easy to juggle the many administrative challenges and government mandates while keeping a focus on what’s most important—inspiring students to succeed.
Every time a school district hires someone, stacks of documents are reviewed and processed by a half dozen or more staffers and administrators. Even the simplest equipment purchase requires records documenting the request, the funding source, the various levels of approval, and the payment. Then there are the paperwork and processes involved in recording and maintaining health benefits, student records and assessments, teacher evaluations, curriculum changes, and extra-curricular programs. That’s a lot to keep track of!
At Idaho Falls School District 91, all this documentation was handled through an increasingly unwieldy pile of paper and microfilm. Paperwork initiated at the schools and at the district office was sent back and forth through the interoffice mail, inevitably causing delays. With this system, it was impossible to know where a particular document was at any given time, and so time and effort were often expended to locate a piece of paper at a particular point in the process. The delays caused frustration, duplication of paperwork, and confusion. These issues were adding time to operations across the board, straining a heavily burdened staff.
Upgrade Opens Opportunities
While the district depends on a few software systems to speed and streamline some of these processes, the inability to tie together those systems and the various departments using them has kept administration mired in maintaining the overall information flow. The district needed a software system that could connect all its departments in a way that allowed them to easily share the information many of them needed to perform their duties.
As district staff reviewed options, they realized a new software system was not the answer— but Laserfiche, a system the district already owned, was. The district purchased Laserfiche records management system in 2001, and the system served the district for more than a decade as a records repository—the equivalent of an electronic filing cabinet.
MCCi, a national records management sales and service provider, suggested upgrading to Laserfiche’s Avante to better meet the district’s needs. Avante’s flexible licensing package and straightforward administration through a web-based dashboard provided business automation at an affordable price. The system’s Windows compatibility made for ready acceptance among the district’s 1,500 users slated to be on the system. It was critical to find software that would not require a steep learning curve if the project was to roll out as quickly and extensively as planned.
The IT staff partnered with a few key departments to start the transition to a paperless workplace. They met to review and map out processes and procedures. This was possibly the most time-consuming aspect of the project, but taking time on the front end paid big dividends by making the transition run more smoothly. Looking back, it’s clear the careful planning was a major factor in the success of the new processes. Operations in many departments were changed dramatically, and involving staff early in the process ensured those changes were met with as little resistance as possible.
Streamlining Billing and HR
One of the departments that really embraced the innovation was the Medicaid billing department. It used to take several weeks for staff to complete this billing, which slowed the district’s ability to request reimbursement for services provided to special education students. Services provided to students before the process was completed were not eligible for reimbursement, which meant a loss of funding for the district. The Medicaid referral process requires documentation and approval from several staff members, and the district receives and processes about 1,000 referrals each year. By integrating the new system’s Forms and Workflow modules with the district’s PowerSchool software, the byzantine routing of paperwork involved in each of those requests has been reduced to a series of mouse clicks and a weeks-long process has been reduced to just a few days.
HR-related processes are now similarly automated. Hiring a new employee involves three forms, eight workflows, three record repositories, and extracting information from a third-party database. Manually, it’s a daunting process. By integrating Laserfiche with the district’s AppliTrack and Skyward systems, the district is seeing a huge increase in efficiency and time savings in maintaining Idaho Falls’s 1,500-strong employee roster.
Ultimately, the enterprise content management system improved communication and consistency and increased efficiency. Success bred success, and when other departments saw these automated processes, the expansion took-off. In less than two years, Idaho Falls SD 91 has automated 59 business processes, including teacher evaluations, student assessment scores, employee resignation and retirements, transcript requests, personnel action forms, 90-day evaluations, employee name and address changes, mileage reimbursements, check requests, printing orders, and purchasing card requests.
The district is realizing time and efficiency savings in all of these automations adding up to a return on the district’s investment that exceeds $50,000 per year.
“The most important return on investment, however, is the time savings that allows teachers, principals, and other staff members more time to spend on what really matters—the students,” says Carrie Smith, the district’s director of human resources and finance.
Blake Smith is a software support analyst at Idaho Falls School District 91. The district, located in southeastern Idaho, has 10,400 students in 18 schools.