Articles Tagged with

Local Government

Education, Fiscal Health, K-12, Municipal, Opinion

Why Municipal Leaders Are Increasingly Studying Academic Achievement Data

How to Leverage Academic Performance Analytics to Improve Economic Drivers of Community Success

Eleanor Roosevelt is credited with originating the quote, “Education is the passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to those who prepare for it today.”

Never has that sentiment been proven more prescient than today. In fact, within less than a week’s time, I was told by three different administrators in municipal government that the best predictor of a community’s future economic success is academic performance in that community’s public schools. Specifically, third-grade reading proficiency has been found to directly correlate to the economic development and career opportunity environment of cities, townships and villages across the United States.

What more and more officials in municipal management are discovering is that there is much more to glean from merely looking at academic achievement metrics to understand the correlations between school district performance and future economic and workforce development. They are realizing that they can activate the analytics from educational outcome data and leverage it to plan for better economic outcomes to better serve the communities they live and work in.

As another famous American, Abraham Lincoln, once said, ““The best way to predict the future is to create it.”

Braiding Data to Optimize Performance Analytics

At its founding, Munetrix was originally launched to provide municipalities with the metrics they need to analyze performance and make better-informed decisions and plans (hence the name, mun- paired with -trics, or Munetrix). Before long, we identified the need for school administrators and educators to visualize the data driving their decisions and future planning, and we almost immediately began to serve education users as well. To this day, Munetrix is something of a unique organization, as one of few data and performance analytics providers that serve both the municipal and education sectors.

Given the connections between educational and economic drivers, serving the entire community has become more of a necessity…and a more accurate and holistic approach to building 21st-century communities that will thrive long into the 22nd century and beyond.

The key to making this work for communities large and small is the concept of “braiding” data. This will require that communities commit to a collaborative approach to “speak a common data language.” According to the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), a division of the U.S. Department of Commerce:

The need for a common data language is analogous to the use of a common language for people and economies to share the best of ideas, products, and services. A language used exclusively by a few isolates people from the rest of what the world has to offer.

So it is with the systems, technology and data used by local governments; schools and districts; fire and police departments; economic planning departments; and state, local and federal entities throughout the public sector. If every system is speaking a different language, they can’t possibly optimally communicate, collaborate or cooperate to the greatest benefit of the communities they serve. But that represents the reality for the vast majority of communities across the U.S. — everyone working on different platforms, speaking different languages, and missing opportunities to optimize planning and future outcomes.

The term frequently used in data and performance analytics to describe the ideal paradigm is “interoperability” — the ability of computer systems or software to exchange and make use of information collaboratively. Governing bodies in education and municipal government often set standards and guidelines for interoperability, but they can be difficult and onerous to adhere to, especially for those entities still relying on more primitive data processing systems, such as spreadsheets and legacy databases.

But this is changing. And the future is not what it used to be, as a result. What does this look like in the real world and under the best-case scenario? We don’t have to hypothesize; we can learn from others already embracing this approach…

Real-Word Success and a Modern Approach to Data Visualization

As I mentioned, three different executive-level individuals in different parts of the country and in three different contexts approached me within one week with variations of this same conversation: How can we leverage early indicators of economic and workforce development by analyzing reliable predictors of future outcomes? 

It all starts with early education. By braiding school district academic performance analytics with municipal economic and other data, municipal planners and leaders can extract real intelligence to help them make both immediate critical decisions as well as better plan for the unique futures that their own communities need to realize.

For example, a school district may consider braiding transparency data with its fiscal data and with student achievement data. Or it may wish to braid academic performance data with fiscal, demographic and economic data. Overall, a community—upon adopting and achieving interoperability and a Common Data Language—can collaboratively “braid” all of their various data feeds. 

Third-grade reading proficiency data predicts high school graduation rates. High school graduation data foretells workforce success. Workforce readiness, development, outcomes and employer needs should then be analyzed and fed back into the curriculum development decisions within the district. Complete interoperability and collaboration coming full-circle.

Hobbs Municipal Schools in New Mexico had a decision to make, one that was dividing the community: Where to open a second high school, based on increasing enrollment? Had leadership made the decision in a silo, a second high school would have opened nearby, perhaps serving the community well — perhaps not. But the community chose instead to understand the economic drivers and needs of the community that the school district serves, and an interesting discovery was made: What the local economy needed was more workers with career and technical education (CTE) backgrounds. Furthermore, an analysis of the community’s educational performance data revealed a student population well-suited to pursue such careers. So, instead of building a second high school, the district leveraged that braided data to inform a decision to open a state-of-the-art CTE facility, CTECH, a $47 million facility that would allow high schoolers to learn trade skills and earn certifications for industries like construction, transportation, culinary arts and IT. 

The facility was widely embraced and opened to great fanfare, complete with an appearance from TV’s Mike Rowe (a vocal proponent of CTE curriculum), and very quickly saw near-full enrollment. Instead of a community divided, leadership came together, collaborated and made a data-informed decision to best serve the businesses and its residents at once — the community came together. The employers will have a more appropriately developed workforce, the future workforce will have greater opportunities for career advancement, and the school district will become the envy of its regional peers. Win-win-win.

To Serve Your Community You Must Know Your Community

Elsewhere, multiple studies have shown that there is a growing mismatch between skills and education of graduates and the worker demand from the community’s employer base — one in California and another looking at global data — to cite only two of many I’ve recently come across. The latter was presented in the context of an article entitled, “Call for a New Era of Higher Ed–Employer Collaboration.” But if communities are not sharing data between the employment sector and the educational sector, how can leaders identify those mismatches in advance, let alone do something to correct them?

The best way to facilitate that community-wide collaboration is to get the entire community on the same page — our educators, our government leaders, our citizens, our businesses, and all of our stakeholders. It starts with a rigid commitment to data literacy and doesn’t end until there is complete collaboration and total transparency.

The success stories are starting to emerge. What does your community’s future look like? As Lincoln said, the best way to predict it is to create it.

If you’d like to see how all of your community’s data threads can effectively intertwine, how easy it can be to adopt a Common Data Language, and why all of this is so critical to the future of your community, let’s talk.

Municipal, Webinars

Watch Webinar Replay: How to Take Advantage of Michigan’s City, Village and Township Revenue Sharing Program

CVTRS Filing and Compliance Made Easy

Watch the replay of our webinar to learn how our step-by step CVTRS/CIP reporting app can help complete this report in hours, not days, ensuring deadlines are achieved with less chance of errors and missing data.

Don’t miss that December 1st deadline! With municipal employees constantly being asked to do more with less, this overwhelming responsibility can lead to errors, omissions, and missed deadlines – potentially resulting in loss of funding. We’re here to help!

Education, Fiscal Health, K-12, Municipal, Opinion

The Importance of Communities Speaking a Common Data Language

How to Get Your Community Cooperating, Communicating and Collaborating for Everyone’s Benefit

Remember those famous paintings by Georges Seurat? Seurat used a technique known as pointillism. He and others would paint beautiful landscapes by using a multitude of small dots, carefully placed in harmony to create beautiful imagery. The technique relies on the ability of the eye and mind of the viewer to blend the color spots into a fuller range of tones.

What’s interesting about the technique is that, if you look at the paintings too closely, all you see is the dots — mere pixels that don’t amount to much at first glance. It’s not until you step back and look at the literal big picture that you truly understand what you’re looking at.

I use this analogy all the time to illustrate the powers — and the limitations — of data analysis. By examining data at a very granular level of detail, you see something different than when you step back and look at the bigger picture, taking all of the “dots” into account…and connecting them!

Any given data point is like a dot in a pointillist painting. It bears information on its own; but only in context of all of the other data points does it truly have meaning. A community’s “data dots” reveal secrets—micro data sets that each tell their own story. Yet together, they make a bigger picture; as distinct inputs, they stand alone.

The more granular you can get in terms of the insights and data about the neighborhoods and citizens you serve on a daily basis, the easier it is to connect dots, understand correlations and causation, and design programs and plans in the interest of both the individual and the community at large.

How to Paint the Perfect Picture of the Future for Your Community

For this analogy to truly have application in the real world, our communities and the public-sector entities that drive their growth and success need to speak a “Common Data Language.”

According to the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), a division of the U.S. Department of Commerce:

The need for a common data language is analogous to the use of a common language for people and economies to share the best of ideas, products, and services. A language used exclusively by a few isolates people from the rest of what the world has to offer.

So it is with the systems, technology and data used by local governments; schools and districts; fire and police departments; economic planning departments; and state, local and federal entities throughout the public sector. If every system is speaking a different language, they can’t possibly optimally communicate, collaborate or cooperate to the greatest benefit to the communities they serve. But that represents the reality for the vast majority of communities across the U.S. — everyone working on different platforms, speaking different languages, and missing opportunities to optimize planning and future outcomes.

The term frequently used in data and performance analytics to describe the ideal paradigm is “interoperability” — the ability of computer systems or software to exchange and make use of information collaboratively. Governing bodies in education and municipal government often set standards and guidelines for interoperability, but they can be difficult and onerous to adhere to, especially for those entities still relying on more primitive data processing systems, such as spreadsheets and legacy databases.

What would this look like in the real world and under the best-case scenario?

  • School district leadership would clearly understand what economic drivers exist between community demographics and student achievement.
  • Economic planners would easily draw causal conclusions about how equity in education and access to technology should shape future planning programs and investments in infrastructure.
  • Financial administrators in school districts could easily overlay public safety data with educational outcomes, to draw potential correlations between community crime and student performance.
  • Economic development professionals would clearly understand the demographics and detailed data about its available workforce, by “braiding” education data with workforce and U.S. Census data, and they could have unfettered access to data visualizations that plainly articulate trends, correlations, causes and effects.

In other words, all of the data points (Seurat’s dots), would work together to paint one clear picture of the past and present, so that leadership and employees in the public sector can access and apply all of the available data and information to their budgeting, planning, programming and overall decision-making processes for the future.

What Does “Braiding Data” Mean?

I mentioned the notion of “braiding” data above. The concept of data braiding is being increasingly used in the data analysis world, in place of bridging or integrating, as it suggests a greater connectivity and higher degree of codependence. 

For example, a school district may consider braiding transparency data with its fiscal data and with student achievement data. Or it may wish to braid academic performance data with fiscal data and economic data. Overall, a community—upon adopting and achieving interoperability and a Common Data Language—can collaboratively “braid” all of their various data feeds. 

Where are the connections? Which is the driver of outcomes, and what data demonstrates the effects of those drivers? The key to this working is to have the ability to combine data sources, then intuitively visualize how various data sets are interdependent and codependent.

I like to say, “Overlay to understand.” Connect dots. Draw more insightful conclusions. Make the invisible visible, and move away from the siloed data sets you are using today toward a more robust and more accurate predictor of community welfare. Making better informed decisions will naturally have a greater impact on your community, but you must be considering all of the available data that paint your community’s pictures, not just the “dots” that are easy to find.

Picture a braided cord, with each strand being a single data stream in your community, from education to economic and from demographic to overall community health. To get started:

  • Partner with the other public-sector entities that serve your community and collaborate to adopt a Common Data Language.
  • Establish and insist on standards of interoperability, so everyone can share, collaborate and communicate for the betterment of every aspect of the community.
  • Make your data intuitive, visual and transparent, so it can be accessed and understood by all stakeholders, from the professional on your team to the layperson resident with no data expertise.
  • Make the first move: Take it upon yourself to be your community’s Common Data Language ambassador and pioneer, as big ideas and bold programs need to be pushed forward, so nobody has to be pulled along grudgingly.

If you’d like to see how all of your community’s data threads can effectively intertwine, how easy it can be to adopt a Common Data Language, and why all of this is so critical to the future of your community, let’s talk.

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Fiscal Health, Municipal, News, Press Releases

Introducing: Neighborhood Intel Block Analyzer

Munetrix’s Latest Suite of Apps Now Live for Premium Users

Munetrix recently announced the launch of its latest product suite: Neighborhood Intel: planning, analytics and reporting software for governments and public-sector partners.

The exciting new feature currently being rolled out to Premium subscribers is the Munetrix Neighborhood Intel Block Analyzer. This newly launched app aggregates, streamlines, desegregates and intuitively presents a holistic view of every community in the state—down to the census block level. 

Premium subscribers will see this new feature made live in the coming days, if they don’t already have access. If you would like a demo of the product’s capabilities, please reach out to your customer service representative.

Transparency users of Munetrix can access this powerful tool by upgrading to the Premium level. Contact sales@munetrix.com to learn more. If you are unsure whether you are a Premium or Transparent subscriber, contact us and we would be happy to look into it for you.

The Block Analyzer tool is also available to those who aren’t yet Munetrix users. Contact us to request a demo or to schedule a consultation.

City planners and economic developers have been using the Neighborhood Intel Block Analyzer for years to:

  • Aggregate, streamline, desegregate and intuitively present a holistic view of every census block level in a community.
  • Analyze adjacencies in block groups to understand trends and identify opportunities to positively impact the community.
  • Identify where underserved populations exist to better plan for future growth and prosperity.
  • View trends and dynamics in real time via time series analysis.
  • Make better-informed decisions, more quickly, to improve and sustain the health of the community.

Look for Neighborhood Intel Block Analyzer to go live in your system soon. If you aren’t finding it, contact us to determine when you will see the upgrade!

Two Important Tools to Look Out For:

  1. Watch the replay of our recent, WEBINAR: How to Battle Inflation with Better Budgeting. This webinar focused on how inflation may impact your school district or municipality budget, featuring David Zin Chief Economist for the Senate Fiscal Agency, and Buzz Brown CEO of Munetrix. They each shared their insights on how the current rising inflation may impact the fiscal health of your school districts and municipalities. Also learn how different budgeting tools and techniques can help reduce fiscal stress across your organization.
  2. Save the date! December 1st, CVTRS/CIP: This will be here before you know it. It’s not too early to update your Debt schedule and other documents needed to process your CVTRS/CIP this fall. Details and registration information coming soon! Learn more about the CVTRS and CIP obligations and process here.

Please let us know if you have any questions about these announcements and resources, or contact us if you would like more information and a personal demo of the Neighborhood Intel Block Analyzer too.

Municipal, Webinars

Watch Webinar Replay: How to Take Advantage of Michigan’s City, Village and Township Revenue Sharing Program

CVTRS Filing and Compliance Made Easy

Watch the replay of our webinar to learn how our step-by step CVTRS/CIP reporting app can help complete this report in hours, not days, ensuring deadlines are achieved with less chance of errors and missing data.

Don’t miss that December 1st deadline! With municipal employees constantly being asked to do more with less, this overwhelming responsibility can lead to errors, omissions, and missed deadlines – potentially resulting in loss of funding. We’re here to help!

Education, Fiscal Health, K-12, Municipal, Opinion

The Truth, the Whole Truth, and Nothing but the Truth

How to Apply Comparative Analytics to Make Better Decisions and Forecasts

American computer scientist Kurt Bollacker once said that, “Data that is loved tends to survive.”

While many of us might find it difficult to “love” data, it is the lifeline of the organizations we run. Data tells us how we’ve performed in the past, what is likely to happen in the future, and how we can alter the path forward, for better or worse. So while we may prefer to ignore data than love it, we do so at our own peril.

In fact, too often, leaders of public institutions like schools, districts and municipalities either willingly or through benign neglect fail to apply a necessary love of data, and in doing so, fail to maximize the potential to make better decisions and more accurate forecasts.

Too many times, it is tempting to believe that you have all of the data you need, when in reality, there is data out there…keeping secrets from you…causing you to “not know what you don’t know”…and as a result, potentially leading you to draw inaccurate conclusions and make under-informed decisions. Not only can leaders fail to see the big picture, they may be looking at the wrong picture altogether.

After the past two years, and the uncertainty of what lies ahead, it’s never been more critical to have the most complete data set possible so that we are making the most informed decisions and the best possible prognostications.

Comparative Analytics and Errors of Omission

The future of planning and budgeting is something called “comparative analytics.” Put simply, comparative analytics refers to the process of examining your own organization’s data and performance against those of your peers and competitors to draw more informed conclusions and to make better decisions. It’s a methodology for avoiding one of the greatest perils to critical decision-making: thinking we have all of the information we need and omitting a potentially decision-changing data set.

The good news: For schools and municipalities, the performance and budgeting data for all of your competitors and benchmarked peers is publicly available. All you have to do is go find it.

If you can view your own historical data and forward-looking projections against those of neighboring entities with whom you may be competing, won’t you be able to make more confident decisions and more strategic allocations of time, treasure and talent? Anything less, and you’re making critical decisions in a vacuum.

To provide just one illustrative example, let’s say you’re examining a school district’s expenditures on instructional investments for the past three years, and the data show that the district is accounting for 10% annual increases in that budget category. Sounds promising. The district appears to be investing in educational outcomes, the chief metric for educational excellence. 

Not so fast. Unfortunately, all that data set provides is an insular, backward-looking reporting of past events — and only the district’s own. Now imagine a scenario in which district leadership could instantly compare their own budget allocations against a neighboring district. Suppose the neighboring district is reporting student achievement data that far surpasses the first district. And then imagine that, through just a few clicks, we can see that the outperforming district is allocating a much larger budget to instructional line items, likely accounting for (at least in part) the better achievement outcomes. Despite the scheduled 10% increases, the spending gap remains large between districts, and so does the disparity in student achievement.

In other words, while District A at first blush appears to be investing in educational priorities, when we look at the big picture, we discover that District B is far outpacing District A in student achievement and taking an entirely different approach to prioritizing instructional spending.

How that might change District A’s assessment of its own budget allocations, and how might that data inform a decision about how to allocate public funding going forward?

Failing to “love” all of the data, in this example, is how an error of omission can quickly lead to errors of commission.

How to Avoid the Most Common “Errors of Omission”

If getting access to the complete set of all available data were difficult, we’d understand why someone might be tempted to take shortcuts or expedite decision making. But practically everything a public employee or leader needs to equip themselves for optimized decision making is publicly available, much of it required by mandate to be made readily accessible. So given that the “secrets” are out there, let’s examine what some of the most common self-inflicted errors of omission tend to be:

(If you would like any of the following reports pulled for your district or municipality and its relevant peers, contact us and we will send you a PDF report within 48 hours at no cost or obligation).

Error #1: Not Going Far Enough Back

The more historical perspective you have, the better you are able to draw conclusions as to what’s driving trends, and what’s likely to change or continue. Too often, data analysts look only one or two years back, when there could be some revelatory trend data hiding in the entity’s more distant past that would prove informative and applicable to the present and the future.

10-year historical analysis

Error #2: Missing the Comparative Intelligence

Looking at your own data only is an error of omission that can, as illustrated above, lead to errors of commission. Here we look at comparative analytics that demonstrate how a sample school district allocates its own budget categorically relative to how all districts within that region do. Now we know if we are overspending, underspending, or misallocating resources, based on how our peers are doing their own budgeting. Look at the disparities and gaps, and consider what that data is trying to tell you.

Budget allocation peer-comparison report

Error #3: Failing to Connect the Dots

How is budgeting data aligned with performance metrics? Isn’t that the key to truly understanding whether our budgeting decisions and forecasts are aligned (or misaligned) with outcomes? With just a few clicks, you should be able to overlay key performance indicators with budgeting inputs to see if you’re getting sufficient return on investment, or whether you need to redirect funds and either double down or reallocate resources.

Overlay data sets to spot trends and performance drivers

Error #4: Not Seeing How Small Data Drives Big Trends

If you’re not examining historically significant data sets, and you’re not comparing both past performance and future forecasting against competitors or peers, you can’t possibly draw accurate correlations and conclusions relative to drivers of big-picture trends. One of the most critical trend data sets for schools and districts, for example, is enrollment. Enrollment data not only reflects success metrics of all kinds, it directly impacts per-pupil funding. The small discrete data points all come together to influence the larger trends we all hold dear and measure ultimate success or failure by. Failure to put the pieces together and see the entire puzzle is perilous, and an unforced error in the modern age.

Data visualizations matched with trend analysis provide a clearer picture yet.

Love the Data that Survives

Perhaps it’s too heavy a lift to expect everyone within leadership at public institutions to truly “love” data. But we do urge that those in positions of critical decision-making at least embrace all that data has to offer…and all that lies in wait to undermine decisions if leaders neglect to listen to the secrets data is keeping from them.

That “loved” data will not only survive, as Bollacker suggests…it will help government institutions thrive.

Unlock the best-kept secrets today! If you would like any of the referenced reports above (or others) pulled for your district or municipality and its peers, contact us and we will send you a PDF report within 48 hours at no cost or obligation.

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30-Second Preview of Munetrix in Action:

Education, Fiscal Health, Municipal, News, Opinion

Finally, it’s not the economy; unfortunately, it’s still the education void

By: Bob Kittle

If it ain’t one thing, it’s another. Perhaps not the best way to start a blog that is ultimately on education, but as the economy hums along (despite some potentially scary headwinds with the recent GM announcement) education is the nemesis that Michigan (or at least Detroit) can’t seem to conquer.

The Detroit Regional Chamber recently released its 2018-2019 State of the Region providing economic indicators and critical areas of improvement for its 11-county region plus Detroit. The report overall offered an upbeat outlook on the region’s progress in many sectors, but underscored the importance in addressing areas in which the region continues to lag – notably education. In a spot-on Detroit News column by Daniel Howes, the education void is so dark and vast, its challenges may temper many of the positive gains made in the region and the state for recent years.

The good news is that Detroit is outpacing the nation in growth in real gross domestic product (2.7 percent vs. 2.2 percent nationally) and per capita income (4.3 percent compared to 4.1 percent nationally). That can’t be overlooked. Nor can the fact that Detroit was second in the nation in growth of median home values between 2013 and 2017, increasing by 42.4 percent (Seattle was number one). The high cost of living on the East and West Coasts makes Detroit attractive—a plus for companies aiming to boost and cultivate tech talent.

But contradicting these positive indicators are critical areas where Detroit is missing out, notably extreme poverty, low metrics on community well-being, and stagnant population growth. Yet the most pressing issue is the mediocre status of Detroit’s educational attainment—which was actually below the national numbers in 2017.

Fiscal Health, Municipal, News, Opinion

At least for now, Michigan closes the chapter on Emergency Financial Managers

By: Bob Kittle and Katrina Powell

The State of Michigan Department of the Treasury sent out a press release on June 27, 2018 announcing that for the first time in 18 years, neither a school district or municipality in Michigan has an emergency manager. You can read the press release in its entirety here, but following is an excerpt.

“LANSING, Mich. – State Treasurer Nick Khouri today announced that no Michigan municipality or school district is under state financial oversight through an emergency manager for the first time in nearly 18 years. The…announcement comes after releasing Highland Park School District from receivership under the Local Financial Stability and Choice Act. Since 2000, there has been an emergency manager providing financial oversight somewhere in Michigan.”

For many years the Emergency Financial Manager (later changed to Emergency Manager or EM) concept was regularly maligned by some constituents, citing it as an overreach of state government at the loss of local control and racially motivated. The term carpetbagger was bandied about as well. One respected national government trade publication headlined a 2012 article, Emergency Financial Managers: Michigan’s Unwelcome Savior. As local government financial advisors ourselves, (Katrina was the State-appointed City Manager for Hamtramck from 2014 to 2017) we, but especially Katrina, have been on the receiving end of some hurtful and untrue verbal attacks about roles and motives.

Municipal, Opinion

Jobs, Jobs, Jobs or People, People, People?

I get a kick when politicians say they are going to create jobs when there are so many jobs out there now, just not enough people to fill them.

In the public sector, this is really going to hit home in the next 3-10 years, when the tail end of the baby-boomers reach the age of retirement, or 65. When I ask local government leaders what percentage of their workforce will retire in the next decade, they tell me at least 30%, which could even be low. Those who can retire with a pension at age 55 for example, will not stick around to 65; but some of them will continue to work post retirement as 1099s or will part time it at another local government due to the shortage their leaving has on the overall public sector workforce.

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