Position control – a ‘hidden war’ in the district office
Guest Column by Sheldon Smith
October 7, 2019
In most school district and county offices there lies a hidden war that most people can’t see unless they are directly involved. Unlike some issues that emanate from district office staff regarding procedures, “work load,” or interpersonal relationships, this district function has a direct effect upon the school district’s fiscal health complete with its own bureaucratic title: position control. Position control is a function for tracking each employee to ensure that there is an assigned position number, appropriate salary schedule and placement, accurate STRS or PERS amount, accurate unemployment insurance deduction, and accurate workers compensation deduction all assigned to the appropriate and correct budget code. By and large, position control seems like normal administration related to hiring and budgeting, but maintaining position control is not that easy.  Managing position control is a bit like managing Newtonian jelly — for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction because every change or addition to an employee’s assignment, ancillary duty, step/column change or benefits requires an update in position control. Every stipend, walk-on coach, salary increase related to newly earned college units, longevity anniversary and yard-duty change necessitates an adjustment in position control. Just as staff members churn within or through a school district, position control has to churn with it. The constant movement in positions, duties, salaries and benefits requires focus, making position control management messy work.   Position control lies at the center of the district’s fiscal health, and here’s why: At least three times a year, the district’s fiscal director or chief business official pulls salary and benefits expenditures from position control for the district’s statutory first, second, and upcoming year’s budget report to the district’s board of trustees and county office of education. With 85 percent of the district expenditures residing in position control, the moment position control becomes inaccurate, the statutory budget reports to the board and COE are inaccurate.   Because position control management is foundational to the district’s fiscal health, the Fiscal Crisis and Management Assistance Team cites the lack of accurate position control or not utilizing position control in budget development as a key factor to district fiscal insolvency. What makes position control problematic is that its management is in two departments: business and human resources. The district’s business department manages funding sources while the human resources department oversees salary schedules, assignments, stipends and employee separations. When inaccuracies appear in the district budget, the blame lands with the business department, but many times the cause emanates from mismanaged position control, thus starting the salvo between the business department and human resources department. Subsequently, many districts have position control exclusively in the business office while other districts have it exclusively in human resources. That sets the stage for finger-pointing from either department.  To avoid the intra-departmental conflict, it’s a best practice for the business department to meet with the human resources department once a month to reconcile position control. Human resources hires people, the business department pays people, but the budget itself does not track when people separate from the school district. A monthly business/human resources position control reconciliation meeting eliminates a CBO’s worst nightmare of the district paying employees who have passed away.  
Sheldon K. Smith, Ed.D., is the Assistant Superintendent of Business Services at the San Luis Obispo County Office of Education, member of the ACSA Business Services Council, and past recipient of ACSA’s Business Services Administrator of the Year award. 
FCMAT’s indicators for lack of position control
  • Financial and human resources systems are not integrated. 
  • Accounting for positions and costs is incomplete. 
  • Staffing not analyzed or adjusted based on staffing ratios and enrollment. 
  • Budget, payroll and position control not reconciled regularly. 
  • Budget source not identified for each new position before the position is authorized by the governing board. 
  • New positions and extra assignments are posted before governing board approval. 
  • Staffing ratios for certificated, classified and administrative positions not adopted or followed. 
  • Lack of regular meetings between human resources, payroll and budget to discuss issues and improve processes. 
SOURCE: Fiscal Crisis and Management Assistance Team,

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