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As Michigan’s K-12 enrollment declines, count day grows in importance; first count day of the school year is Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Auburn Hills, Mich. –September 27,  2019 – The term, “count day” which is Wednesday October 2, 2019, is a familiar one to both Michigan educators and the parents who want their child counted, according to Buzz Brown, co-founder and Vice President of Munetrix, a public sector solutions provider offering data management, analytics and reporting tools for states, local governments and public school districts. Brown says the familiar term is taking on increased significance as Michigan’s K-12 population declines.

“Students in Michigan school districts and charter schools are counted many other dates besides the first official count day in October,” Brown said. ‘There are actually four official count days each school year, but the October date is the standout because it’s first. From a percentage perspective 90% of district students are accounted for in October and 10% are accounted for in January.”

Most schools only count on count day because of the extra paperwork and reporting requirements for counting students after that date – but that can be a costly mistake, Brown cautions. That’s because declining enrollment and the competitive race to attract children to neighboring school districts, charter schools and private schools are collectively slicing into a shrinking pie.

“One of the few growing districts in SE Michigan lost $1M in state funding last year when 120 children failed to be counted for unknown reasons, yet given their growth rates, this district was able to absorb the cost more easily than others – but it still hurt,” Brown said.  “Most Michigan districts are contracting and fewer students mean fewer dollars.”

For those who miss count day, there is some leniency. Schools have 10 days after count day to count a child that has an unexcused absence, 30 days if the absence is excused and 45 days if the student is suspended. The challenge to the districts, regardless of the number counted, is that they always start the school year in Michigan before the state budget is decided, leaving some schools to borrow money until state aid is released.

“The timeframe of the state budget for education is a hot topic each fall. Compared to that, getting students to be counted on count day is a much easier task,” Brown said. “As some school districts will attest. a pizza party and other incentives to lure students to school that day also helps.”

Additional information on  school count day and funding can be found at the State of Michigan website.

Education, Fiscal Health, Fiscal Health, Municipal

The Transparency Illusion

By Bob Kittle

The demand for government transparency is more fervent than ever. While, in the past, inquiring about the use of tax dollars required time, filling out forms or even a trip to City Hall, today the public expects almost instant gratification to their questions — or not even have to ask questions because they want to find it on their own with internet searches, even from their mobile device. More often than not, they are disappointed with the results they find.

The problem isn’t that local governments aren’t posting budgets and financial information online. It’s that they are doing so in a manner that pretty much renders them useless to anyone who doesn’t have a background in municipal finance, public administration or data science. When it comes to transparency, more isn’t always better, and dozens of 100-page PDF documents are not synonymous with the intent of Transparency.

People want to know what projects and programs their tax dollars are funding; answers to questions like where the money for those new signs came from, why potholes on their street aren’t fixed, or any other information that’s relevant to their home value, safety and/or quality of life in the neighborhood.

Citizens want timely, helpful data that they can understand. When local governments post loads of data ad nauseam, the public is left with the task of sorting through it and trying to understand what it all means and how it relates to their query. For many, the process isn’t just exasperating, it results in having less trust in their government. A telling bumper sticker I once saw said, “I love my country, but I don’t trust all its governments.” Touché.

This type of transparency is like wearing someone else’s prescription glasses; you might be able to see some blurred images but not the details that really matter.

Publishing reams of data isn’t transparency, It’s the illusion of transparency.

Understanding what information to share, when to share it and the level of transparency people expect:

  • helps local governments provide insightful and relevant information;
  • reduces the risk of publishing private information;
  • improves community public relations; and
  • encourages trust in the electorate and area stakeholders.

This consistency also provides stakeholders the ability to know exactly where information is, when it was put there and how to retrieve it. It should also stay in the same location for consistency purposes.

While someone should be tasked with managing and monitoring transparency within the organization, it doesn’t require a new hire or expansive workload. The use of performance management software (like the Munetrix dashboard), makes the process easy, efficient and relatively timeless and provides municipalities and school districts with the ability to share, monitor and understand the data they publish with little more than a click of a mouse.

We recommend being fully transparent, so you’ll never be accused of the “Illusion of Transparency” when it comes to accessing your open data and documents. 

News

And then there were none…cities and schools must prepare for silver tsunami of public sector retirements as next gen college students select other careers

Auburn Hills, Mich. –September X, 2019 –A silver tsunami of retirements is anticipated in schools and municipalities over the next several years; yet, as college students head back to college this month, only an estimated 5% are considering a career in the public sector. Further, a 2019 survey found the number of students graduating with a master’s degree in public policy and entering careers in federal, state and local government dropped 15% from 2011 to 2017. These statistics should have local government unit leaders on edge, according to Bob Kittle, president of Munetrix, a public sector solutions provider offering data management, analytics and reporting tools for states, local governments and public school districts.

“Finance directors, assessors and administrators are just an example of positions already in short supply. Think of where we’ll be when those who understand complex water and sewer systems leave,” Kittle said. “And those technical positions lean more toward skilled trades rather than traditional four-year college grads, and the shortage of skilled trades has already been well established.”

A 2016 report from Pew noted that 50% of state and 52% of local government employees were between the ages of 45 and 64 in 2013; but Kittle says administrators at the local level can be reticent to share information on their own local unit’s expected retirement wave.

“I’m regularly on the speaker’s circuit discussing data driven decision making and succession planning.  When I ask for a show of hands as to how many in the audience will be retiring in the next five years, typically # hands go up,” Kittle said. “This supports the data we have in our platform that tracks employees by age range in cities and schools, but when we ask our customers outright for data on planned staff retirements over the next five years, there is definitely a reluctance to provide the information.”

Kittle says the hesitation can be that certain districts or cities don’t run reports on the data or track it well enough. That’s why Munetrix has a tool with its platform that makes tracking easier.

“We are really heading toward a crisis situation in the public sector in terms of talent and seniority,” Kittle said. “The Munetrix app is a tool to help support succession planning and institutional knowledge preservation, and to increase the portability of key jobs within the local unit, but we still need to raise awareness of the option for career changers and young adults to pursue public sector opportunities.”

For their part, the company established Munetrix University in 2013 to provide paid internships in data science to college students. The company has had 26 interns since it began the program in 2013.  Additionally, Munetrix announced this month a new scholarship program through the Michigan Government Finance Officials Association and (name of school association) that it would offer five  $1,000 scholarships to college students who plan to pursue a career in local government. Students may apply for the scholarship through (add website links.)

Education, Municipal, News, Opinion

Cheers to a successful millage passage!

By: Bob Kittle

It was announced at the Detroit Regional Chamber’s Mackinac Policy Conference in May 2019 that a coalition of education advocates is aiming for a Wayne County millage to support after-school programs. If supported, the county-wide proposal would be on the Wayne County ballot in 2020. While this effort may be worthwhile, it is certain to be a challenge, first because it’s a county-wide vote, but also because gaining support for any millage proposal can be difficult – as almost any city or school district can attest. Having accurate and timely data can help build a strong case for millage requests and lessen the handwringing for anxious policymakers at the same time.

Munetrix understands the importance of data in community decision making. Increased demands for transparency make it clear that constituents want confidence that every penny is spent wisely. When current dollars aren’t enough to support operations or a new community initiative, a strong case can be made for additional funding by comparing how similar communities pay for equivalent services. You can also respond to naysayers with data reflecting that proposed millage rates aren’t unprecedented or out of line using relevant comparable analysis.

Citizens expect data to be accessible and will use it to better understand their community’s use of taxpayer funds. While preparing for your next city or school (or, in the case of Wayne County, after-school) millage, use data in your favor.  

Munetrix makes government data easy. If you need assistance with your next millage proposal, don’t hesitate to contact us.

Fiscal Stress, Municipal, News, Opinion

Don’t believe everything you read. But believe this. Many Municipalities are Starving.

By: Bob Kittle

The headline of this March 21, 2019 post, Property Taxes Up $638 Million In 2018, by Michigan Capitol Confidential is eye-catching—and surely stoked the fire of those who believe they pay too much in property taxes—but let’s not let the facts get in the way.

While Michigan property tax collections may be up for the sixth consecutive year, it must be considered that the drop from 2008–2012 was so severe that the increases still haven’t caught up to pre-recession levels. That’s an important piece of information missing from the article, and is caused by the limitations of 1978’s Headlee Tax Amendment to the State’s Constitution, then followed up by 1994’s Proposal A.

To make this easier to understand, I will use an analogy with our retirement savings plans and homes. During the recession, most of us saw a 40–50% drop in the value of our retirement savings, only to see it storm back and exceed where we were initially—if we were patient. Same with housing values. Property owners saw their home values cut in half, and subsequently watched as they stormed back from 2012 to today. In most cases, our property is now worth more than it was worth pre-recession.

But local units of government in Michigan don’t see that appreciation because they are limited to a taxable value increase of CPI or 5% per year, whichever is lower. CPI didn’t exceed 2% until 2017 – so while our 401Ks and home values were rebounding at compounding double digit rates, municipalities had to watch as everybody else got well, but they were (are) handcuffed. In Auburn Hills, where I am a councilperson, our Total Taxable Value is still down $1B from its 2007 level, meaning we must operate on nearly $1M less in property tax revenue when it comes to paying our police and fire personnel, fixing roads and generally running the government.

On top of that, the State fixed their budget by pulling much needed sales tax revenue from local governments to fix their structural deficit. The last straw is that IF a community sees tax increases on certain properties exceed the constitutional limits, the rest of the city’s properties must be reduced by the corresponding value to make sure, on a city-wide basis, the total taxable value doesn’t exceed the allowable limit. The laws never considered a market crash!

Look, Munetrix is in the municipal data business, so we understand the role of data, especially in communicating to constituents. What we don’t like is half-truths, and appreciate when journalists provide balanced stories.

At the end of the day, many communities are cash-strapped and starving, but mostly not by their own actions.

News

Munetrix contribution to Dark Store Legislation Defense Fund reflects solidarity with the local units of government it serves

Auburn Hills, Mich. – March 21, 2019 –Munetrix, a public sector solutions provider offering data management, analytics and reporting tools for states, local governments and public school districts, showed its support for Escanaba and Michigan’s so-called Dark Store legislation, with a recent donation of $4,100.

The donation follows Munetrix September 2018 pledge to donate 10% of its subscription service price for each new Michigan city, village, township or county customer in the month of September to the Dark Store Legislation Defense Fund. Donations per governmental unit ranged from $500 to $1,500 depending on the subscription category. 

A vexing national issue for local governments and school districts, SB 1025 and HB 6049 were introduced in Michigan in May 2018 in response to Michigan Tax Tribunal’s application of a tax loophole that assessed the value of fully functioning big box stores as if they were empty (“dark”).  Both bills were re-introduced with bi-partisan support in January 2019 and are awaiting action

The loophole was first applied to a Menards store in Escanaba in 2014, but grew to national pharmacies, chain stores and fast food restaurants as retailers used it as a precedent to reduce their own property tax bills. The cumulative result has been a significant reduction in local tax revenues, which creates a challenge nationally for already struggling communities striving to deliver quality services in an affordable manner. 

The money donated by Munetrix and others, including municipalities and individuals, is helping defray the legal costs incurred by the City of Escanaba as it awaits a re-trial before the Michigan Tax Tribunal beginning May 13.

“Serving more than 300 Michigan municipalities and school districts, Munetrix gets in the trenches with our customers to help build and support fiscally healthy governmental units throughout Michigan. This donation falls right in line with that type of support and shows our commitment to their mission,” Munetrix President Bob Kittle said.

News

Munetrix contribution to Dark Store Legislation Defense Fund reflects solidarity with the local units of government it serves

Auburn Hills, Mich. – March 20, 2019 –Munetrix, a public sector solutions provider offering data management, analytics and reporting tools for states, local governments and public school districts, showed its support for Escanaba and Michigan’s so-called Dark Store legislation, with a recent donation of $4,100. 

The donation follows Munetrix September 2018 pledge to donate 10% of its subscription service price for each new Michigan city, village, township or county customer in the month of September to the Dark Store Legislation Defense Fund. Donations per governmental unit ranged from $500 to $1,500 depending on the subscription category. 

A vexing national issue for local governments and school districts, SB 1025 and HB 6049 were introduced in Michigan in May 2018 in response to Michigan Tax Tribunal’s application of a tax loophole that assessed the value of fully functioning big box stores as if they were empty (“dark”). Both bills were re-introduced with bi-partisan support in January 2019 and are awaiting action. 

The loophole was first applied to a Menards store in Escanaba in 2014, but grew to national pharmacies, chain stores and fast food restaurants as retailers used it as a precedent to reduce their own property tax bills. The cumulative result has been a significant reduction in local tax revenues, which creates a challenge nationally for already struggling communities striving to deliver quality services in an affordable manner. 

The money donated by Munetrix and others, including municipalities and individuals, is helping defray the legal costs incurred by the City of Escanaba as it awaits a re-trial before the Michigan Tax Tribunal beginning May 13. 

“Serving more than 300 Michigan municipalities and school districts, Munetrix gets in the trenches with our customers to help build and support fiscally healthy governmental units throughout Michigan. This donation falls right in line with that type of support and shows our commitment to their mission,” Munetrix President Bob Kittle said. 

Municipal, Opinion

If your local unit of government is planning to make some big purchases in 2019, you might want to read this first.

Government Procurement PracticesPeople in the private sector like to opine that government should operate like a business, but that’s just not practical. The goal of the public sector is to provide the best possible services at the lowest possible cost, with a focus on the health, safety and welfare of the community. The goal of the private sector is to make a profit. These competing interests make it impossible for governments to run like a business; plus, there are some poorly run businesses no one should ever emulate.

But that’s not to say local units of government (LUGs) can’t learn a thing or two from the private sector. There are elements of successful businesses that can be incorporated into the business of government; particularly, certain procurement practices.

LUGs with decentralized or no formal procurement practice can benefit more than others, especially those that look at purchasing goods and services as only a task. The sooner the “done” box can be checked, the sooner they can get to the next issue du-jour.

LUGs often use bid networks and place orders with the, “lowest qualified bidder” no matter how many bidders participate. They also see over-specified bigger ticket items, many times prepared with the help of a vendor who then becomes the only person capable of meeting the requirements. Other potential providers can usually read between the lines in these cases and don’t bother submitting a bid.

News

Munetrix again named to GovTech100 index for innovation and effectiveness in government technology

Auburn Hills, Mich. – February 5, 2019– Among a compendium of 100 companies focused on making a difference in state and local governments, Munetrix is pleased to announce its inclusion on the 2019 GovTech100, an annual index by Government Technology magazine that highlights the top 100 companies in the country that serve government in unique, innovative and effective ways. Munetrix, a public sector solutions provider offering data management, analytics and reporting tools for states, local governments and public school districts, has been included on the GovTech100 since its introduction in 2016 and is one of only two Michiganbased companies that made the 2019 list. 

Munetrix President Bob Kittle said it’s gratifying to be recognized among the best in the country for government tech. 

“Being named to the GovTech100 for the fourth consecutive year reinforces our commitment to helping municipalities and schools increase productivity and efficiency while planning for the future,” Kittle said. “We have worked hard to earn our reputation of being a thought leader who guides government customers in budgeting, transparency, complying with legislated mandates, and data management—enabling them to monitor their municipal wellness through the use of our technology. Our team couldn’t be more proud.” 

A complete list of GovTech100 2019 honorees can be viewed here. The list is also featured in the January/February 2019 issue of Government Technology magazine. 

The 2019 GovTech100 recognition comes on the heels of Munetrix winning the “Education Advocate” award in December 2018 from the Auburn Hills, Michigan Chamber of Commerce for its efforts to help plan for the next generation of public sector leaders. 

With estimates that only two percent of graduates are bound for a career in the public sector, while more than a third of public sector employees are expected to retire in the next seven years, Munetrix has been a leading advocate of succession planning and the development of professional administrators to head local units of government in the future. Because both cities and schools benefit by using its software platform, Munetrix products effectively respond to the ‘silver tsunami’ of anticipated retirements using data science and best-in-class analytics. 

“Munetrix has embedded a data management strategy into our online platform that institutionalizes relevant information, including compliance lists, in order to create a seamless handoff from retiree to new hire,” Kittle said. “This role-based information system lets new hires know what they need to do and when they need to do it. No matter who may come and go, the responsibilities of the role generally remain unchanged and can be successfully managed.” 

In addition to software that eases succession planning, the company offers paid internships through the Munetrix University to college students who want to learn about careers in cities and schools by working with Munetrix and its local units of government customer base. The company has hired 23 interns since the Munetrix University program began in 2012. 

Since its founding in 2010, Munetrix has continued to solidify its reputation among government and school district leaders. Munetrix is an approved vendor prequalified by the Michigan Department of Technology, Management and Budget to provide data analytics tools for reimbursement to both Michigan public school districts and cities. It is the only resource provider that generates a fiscal wellness measure—the Munetrix Score—for cities and schools, and the company has twice received “Readers’ Choice Top Products” recognition from K-12 leaders’ education trade publication, District Administration. The GovTech100 for 2019 brings to nine the total number of awards Munetrix has received in just four years—reassurance that it is focused on the right things. 

News

Munetrix adds new Chief Administrator role as business opportunities expand

Auburn Hills, Mich. –January 4, 2019 –Munetrix, a public sector solutions provider offering data management, analytics and reporting tools for states, local governments and public school districts, is pleased to announce Stacey Frankovich has joined the company in the new role of Chief Administrator. The announcement was made by Munetrix President, Bob Kittle. 

As Chief Administrator, Frankovich will be responsible for managing the day-to-day activities of the company, including the recruitment and hiring of new employees. 

“Munetrix has experienced significant growth in the last two years and we need the additional administrative oversight to keep the office running smoothly as business opportunities increase,” Kittle said. “Stacey Frankovich thrives in a fast-paced environment and brings handson experience in project management and process and procedure development; she also has strong organizational leadership skills.” 

Frankovich has served in a variety of roles that intersect with education and municipal government. Immediately prior to joining Munetrix, she served concurrent roles as both the Director, Center for Innovation & Entrepreneurship at Macomb Community College and North American Lead for the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Inclusive Innovation Challenge (MIT IIC). 

MIT IIC is a global challenge aimed at supporting entrepreneurs who are using technology for social change and inclusion in future of work initiatives. Frankovich’s responsibilities included managing the day-to-day operations of the North American Challenge and relationship building with municipalities, public and private partnerships, government agencies, industry leaders and entrepreneurs. At the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, she managed the Innovation Fund, a $2 million pre-seed collaboration between Macomb Community College and JP Morgan Chase for early-stage tech start-ups. 

Frankovich also served as the Michigan DARPA Matching Funds Program Manager, Development Manager and Market Development Manager for the Macomb/Oakland University Incubator from 2012 to 2015 and as Program Lead of i2B, a student business incubator at Oakland University, from 2011 to 2015. 

Frankovich is also active in civic and professional groups. She is a Governor-appointed public member of the Michigan Board of Medicine, and a public speaker on entrepreneurship opportunities at the college level. She holds a Master of Science in Administration from Central Michigan University and a Bachelor of Science degree in Health Administration from Baker College.

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