The Milton Town School District and town finance department will work together to maintain their shared finance functions, the boards decided in their joint meeting October 29.

Their efforts follow concerns about the departments’ ability to continue shared operations after the Vt. Agency of Education mandated all schools switch to a uniform chart of accounts and to a common finance software, eFinancePlus, by July 1, 2019 and July 1, 2020, respectively.

“We really want to continue this relationship of working together,” town manager Don Turner said. “If we can massage it and move in a way that we can continue to work together, we want to do that.”

MTSD elected to forgo the free data conversion offered by the state to early adopters of eFinancePlus, preferring to work closely with the town on keeping shared functions in place when the school begins working with the software in 2020. As of last week, 50 percent of school districts and supervisory unions have signed up to implement the software by June 30, 2019, according to AOE chief financial officer Emily Byrne.

“We’re not behind in any way; it’s just we’re not the leading edge,” said MTSD business manager Don Johnson, to which town finance director Jessica Morris added, “Which isn’t a bad thing when it comes to a major software conversion.”

The district hopes the state might relax its mandate requirements before the 2020 deadline, Johnson said, adding perhaps circumstances will change, and the finance department will be permitted to continue working with its current NEMRC software.

In the meantime, the school will convert to the uniform chart of accounts by July 2019, using an update to NEMRC. The upgrade will cost between $5,000-6,000, about half the original estimate provided this summer, Johnson said.  There is no financial aid for the uniform chart of account switch, but the AOE has developed tools to help districts with the switch and will meet with business managers to further support the transition, Byrne said.

“We know that this new software will change the way that we do things,” Morris said. “What we’d like to do is take that extra year to kind of map everything out.”

In recent times, the school’s finance department has completed purchase orders, freeing the town’s department to catch up on administrative roles like accounts payable, according to Morris. Johnson added he hopes the district will be able to receive and process invoices—still adhering to warrant process—to further alleviate the town’s duties.

But the switch won’t come without challenges: The town and district must determine how to cross-train town employees on the new software so the departments may continue cross-coverage when employees are away. 

“It’s not really reasonable to have two town staff trained in a system that they might use two or three times a year,” Morris said.

However, the town employees will be taught crucial functions like processing warrants and cutting checks in eFinanacePlus; according to Morris, those operations are similar in each system.

At the meeting, selectboard chairman Darren Adams asked if the town could switch to eFinancePlus. Morris said it’s possible, but the program only features a third of the functions the finance department performs. The town’s utility billing, licensing, tax administration, grand list and land records link to its general ledger with NEMRC and wouldn’t be included with eFinancePlus, she said.

The meeting adjourned with members of the town and school boards prepared to delay purchasing the software and take the year to ready employees for its adoption.

“The separation of duties and the internal controls that we have in place are really second to none,” Johnson said. “The last thing that I, personally, would ever want to see happen is have this software system or the chart of accounts drive a wedge in our relationship.”