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A brief summary of the study's purpose, methodology, and other noteworthy items

The Performance Management and Benchmarking Project

In 2002 the Council of the Great City Schools and its members set out to develop performance measures that could be used to improve business operations in urban public school districts. The Council launched the Performance Measurement and Benchmarking Project to achieve these objectives. The purposes of the project were to:

  • Establish a common set of key performance indicators (KPIs) in a range of school operations, including business services, finances, human resources, and technology;
  • Use these KPIs to benchmark and compare the performance of the nation’s largest urban public school systems;
  • Use the results to improve operational performance in urban public schools.

Since its inception, the project has been led by two Council task forces operating under the aegis of the organization’s Board of Directors: the Task Force on Leadership, Governance, and Management, and the Task Force on Finance. The project’s work has been conducted by a team of member-district managers, technical advisors with extensive expertise in the following functional areas: business services (transportation, food services, maintenance and operations, safety and security), budget and finance (accounts payable, financial management, grants management, risk management, compensation, procurement and cash management), information technology, and human resources.

Methodology of KPI Development

The project’s teams have used a sophisticated approach to define, collect and validate school-system data. This process calls for each KPI to have a clearly defined purpose to justify its development, and extensive documentation of the metric definitions ensures that the expertise of the technical teams is fully captured. 

At the core of the methodology is the principle of continuous improvement. The technical teams are instructed to focus on operational indicators that can be benchmarked and are actionable, and thus can be strategically managed by setting improvement targets. From the KPI definitions the surveys are developed and tested to ensure the comparability, integrity and validity of data across school districts.

Power Indicators and Essential Few

The KPIs are categorized into three levels of priority—Power Indicators, Essential Few, and Key Indicators—with each level having its own general purpose. 

  • Power Indicators: Strategic and policy level; can be used by superintendents and school boards to assess the overall performance of their district’s non-instructional operations.
  • Essential Few: Management level; can be used by chief executives to assess the performance of individual departments and divisions.
  • Key Indicators: Technical level; can be used by department heads to drive the performance of the higher-level measures. This division is more or less hierarchical, and while it is just one way of many to organizing the KPIs, it is helpful for highlighting those KPIs that are important enough to warrant more attention being paid to them.

A Note on Cost of Living Adjustments

We adjust for cost of living in most cost-related measures. Regions where it is more expensive to live, such as San Francisco, Boston, New York City and Washington, D.C., are adjusted downward in order to be comparable with other cities. Conversely, regions where the costs of goods are lower, such as Columbus, OH, and Nashville, TN, are adjusted upwards.

Maintenance & Operations

Performance metrics in maintenance and operations (M&O) assess the cost efficiency and service levels of a district’s facilities management and labor. Areas of focus include custodial work, maintenance work, renovations, construction, utility usage, and environmental stewardship. The cost efficiency of custodial work is represented broadly by Custodial Workload and Custodial Cost per Square Foot, where low workload combined with high cost per square feet would indicate that cost savings can be realized by reducing the number of custodians. Additionally, the relative cost of supplies can be considered by looking at Custodial Supply Cost per Square Foot.

The relative cost of utilities is represented by Utility Usage per Square Foot and Water Usage per Square Foot. 

These KPIs should give district leaders a general sense of where they are doing well and where they can improve. The importance and usefulness of each KPI is described in the “Importance of Measure” and “Factors that Influence” headings, which can be used to guide improvement strategies.