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Tech Group Finds Schools Cost Savings, Data Quality Improvements

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KALAMAZOO — In business, and in education, data-driven decision-making makes intellectual sense, but the examination and manual movement of data from one education-based software to another is a time-consuming and momentous task riddled with inefficiency.

The latest efforts of the Michigan Collaborative Administrative Solutions for Education Consortium with a Michigan vendor will help local school districts leap the slow data-transfer hurdle.

MiCase provides financial accounting, human resources, payroll and student information systems for eight countywide Intermediate School Districts serving 73 local schools in  Allegan, Berrien, Cass, Kalamazoo, Lake, Mason, Menominee, Oceana, St. Joseph and Van Buren counties.

Level Data, Inc., a Kalamazoo-based software service vendor, serves school districts nationwide with its specialized software and strategic services that allows for a smooth flow of student data between various education programs. On the surface this may seem inconsequential to students or parents, but when the food services software is not designed to talk to the transportation department or the teachers’ curriculum, student data information flow is stifled. This poor data flow causes manual updates and oversight that adds thousands of hours per year to a school district’s administration, requiring more staff at a time districts need to trim.

“We like the fact Level Data works with all the individual vendors for the different systems to come up with a way to automate their entire process,” said Don Dailey, executive director of MiCase. “Everything is scheduled. I like the fact they meet with school districts individually and look at what their needs are, look at when data needs to be there, and then customize the data flow so it works most effectively for the district. I think those things are immensely important.”

The bottom line is the bottom line. MiCase says the new service is a large money saver for school districts everywhere – but has also simultaneously increased revenue sources for school districts because of a boost in data quality. In the Free-and-Reduced-Lunch federal program alone, research of Level Data clients revealed that those districts found up to 11 percnet more students eligible for the program, conservatively translating into almost $900 more per student for each school district’s budget annually.

“Saving money is one thing, but also increasing revenues in our current economy is a big deal for districts trying to keep their heads above water,” said Matt Betts, president of Level Data.

Dailey also points out that improved data leads to better strategic planning for education administrators.

“One of the big buzz words in business has always been data driven decision making, and schools are being pushed to be smarter and smarter all the time – and in the decisions they make they are given fewer resources but are expected to provide better outcomes,” Dailey said. “The only way to do that is to manage the data in a much more straight-forward manner. If we’re able to reduce data errors and able to improve efficiencies, we can save money, we can have improved data quality and be able to make better decisions.”

Lewis Cass ISD superintendent Bob Colby echoed those thoughts.

“The reason I’m looking at Level Data’s services and why I think everybody should be – as an ISD we’re always looking down the road providing business services to our locals and that means we need to streamline our operations,” Colby said. “Just recently one of our local business managers was sharing about the frustration of the repetitiveness of entering data to get the different software packages to talk with one another. So we’re looking for Level Data to provide that mechanism to streamline our operations, to make us more efficient, so that when we do provide services to our locals we’re doing it in the most efficient, cost-effective manner —  a streamlined service.

“The pressure is just phenomenal (to cut education costs),” Colby added. “There’s a belief (at the state level) that simply doing the shared services or collaboration of services has inherent cost savings, and it doesn’t. We don’t need to just simply collaborate on services, we need to find efficiencies within those services for real cost savings. For us, that means any ways we can do the same, or better level of service, with fewer people. And I think Level Data has great potential in that regard.”

Betts said the potential with MiCase and all districts is a tremendous opportunity for all.

“We work with individual districts and consortiums across the country but rarely do you find an organization with the vision and leadership being demonstrated by MiCase. As Mr. Colby points out, it’s more than collaboration and consolidation. The districts within MiCase are building a model to leverage their technology systems to the fullest. The teachers and administrators will have much better data they can access when working with individual students, classes or entire districts. Level Data’s participation and support will allow the consortium to achieve their goals with a shortened timeline. It is a win for the Consortium, the districts and most importantly the students and their families who also feel the pressure of the financial squeeze at their schools.”

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