Public school budgets are tight, and whenever public funding is involved, it’s not only important to tighten the grip on spend, but to build transparency of the taxpayer dollars being used.
But the spend management needs of the education system cannot entirely be met by a single solution that provides visibility into capital expenditure. Whether through purchase orders or employee spend, keeping track of how money moves out of a school quickly becomes complex with so many professionals having to make purchases.
School districts are moving away from stocking up on inventory, instead turning to staff to make their own purchases for the jobs they need. As Steinhardt explained, administrators are searching for ways to empower professionals to buy items they need to do their jobs — and maintain oversight of that spend — but need tools flexible enough to address the unique scenarios of different roles in the education system.
Protecting Teachers’ Wallets
One of the most prominent pain points in school spending is in ensuring educators themselves are able to buy the supplies they need without the risk of over- or unauthorized spend.
Historically, the resulting strategy has been for administrators to require teachers to make purchases themselves, creating an ecosystem in which these professionals often pay out-of-pocket for their work supplies.
“There is no other profession that requires their employees to spend as much out-of-pocket,” said Steinhardt of the education space.
As he explained, there is a higher risk profile with teachers than with higher-level administrators like a school principal that prevents schools from handing out purchasing cards to spend money. Instead, schools will deploy a mix of purchasing avenues, including procurement via purchase order, or post-purchase expense reimbursement to teachers. It’s a tactic that creates silos and can fail to provide the level of control and transparency administrators need.
To address these challenges, ClassWallet offers its TeacherWallet solution, a debit card product linked with a platform in which teachers can shop at verified vendors to procure goods, with that data automatically presented to managers to track spend. With the pandemic creating a new environment of remote education, Steinhardt said ClassWallet made the adjustment to allow for those purchases to be sent to a home address as teachers adjust their spending habits to buy items like personal protective equipment (PPE), microphones and other tools to help them teach their classes via video conferencing.
Keeping Maintenance Costs In Check
Maintenance personnel present the same need to arm professionals with school funds to make job-related purchases, but Steinhardt noted that different pain points emerge than the challenges of managing teacher spend.
For instance, janitors and repair professionals typically don’t spend out-of-pocket for items like cleaning supplies or light fixtures. And while a purchase order can be issued to a vendor to, say, repave the school’s parking lot, construction workers that are actually on the job are typically driving to and from hardware and supply stores, adding to the volume of purchase orders (POs) that must be managed.
“Even a small school district might have 120 open purchase orders with a bunch of vendors,” said Steinhardt. “There are a couple of problems there. It’s tough to keep track of and reconcile quickly, it’s a lot of paperwork, and the transactional overhead is exceptionally high.”
It’s in this context that ClassWallet launched its newest tool, MaintenenceWallet, to address these particular areas of friction and others. The technology streamlines the funds issuance and reconciliation process by enabling maintenance workers to use a physical purchasing card to buy the items they need, while arming administrators with the ability to set controls on those cards. It also can act like a “bridge” between a school’s work order management platform and an enterprise resource planning (ERP) platform to aggregate data and deliver a more robust view of expenses.
Although the pandemic has forced schools and their staff to stay on their toes, in-person classes are still happening depending on student age, district and state. Through the crisis, Steinhardt said ClassWallet has been pleasantly surprised to have not experienced a decline in transaction volume. Rather, it’s the nature of those transactions that are shifting.
With professionals coming in and out of schools as facilities close and reopen, and with many teachers disbursed to their homes, spend management solutions must be flexible in order to empower staff to buy what they need to keep students learning — without wasting or misusing public funds.
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