The Great Oaks Legacy Charter School is a high-performing, innovative charter public school in Newark, NJ. Serving 1,600 students from Pre-K to 12th grade on four campuses across the city, their mission is to prepare public school students for success in college. Great Oaks Legacy students aspire to be some of the highest performing students in the country.
With expectations to double size and revenue in the coming years, Great Oaks wanted to invest in a more intelligible and intuitive software to track their spend and democratize controls across multiple locations. For Benjamin Carson, their backlog of purchase orders was a sign of things to come. “You know, last year we did something like 2000 requisitions into purchase orders,” he said, laughing nervously.
Chief Financial Officer
Benjamin Carson is the Chief Financial Officer at Great Oaks Legacy Charter School where he helps grow and sustain a network of high-performing schools in the Newark area. Benjamin brings his deep knowledge of charter school finances, operations, and best practices to his CFO role at Great Oaks Legacy Charter School.
Chief Financial Officer
Benjamin Carson is the CFO of Great Oaks Legacy Charter Schools, and his ambitions for the schools are extremely clear: “We’ve grown rapidly, and we’re on track to double in the next ten years. Today, we have 6 campuses. We’re headed towards 10.”
When Benjamin came to Procurify, he was already in the midst of a technological transition with his team. “Our mantra as a finance team for the last couple of years has been making sure our systems are ready to grow. First, we implemented a human resources information system and payroll transition. Then, about a year and a half ago, we did a big health insurance tracking transition. We’re checking the boxes of upgrading some of our small school systems.”
It became clear that Great Oaks couldn’t spend like a small school if they wanted to reach their lofty revenue goals - they had to move more strategically, and that meant taking interest in proactive budgets and more agile spend controls. However, their approach needed to be more specific and nuanced given the rigidity of spend compliance in their state. “We’re regulated as a public school district here in New Jersey, which means that there's a pretty specific kind of accounting format and style that we're expected to use. Because of that, there are only a few platforms that are compliant and integratable.”
These finer details didn’t make things particularly easy. But, after a quick Google search, Ben found Procurify and soon discovered that it checked all the compliance boxes. He also liked how user friendly the platform looked and decided that it was the tool he needed to get serious about change. Great Oaks closed with Procurify in April, right before the hot spending months of the summer. To get them prepared, Procurify and Great Oaks worked together to get things up promptly.
“We had really specific parameters around how we wanted things to be set up with respect to the compliance aspect and our network structure, and Aditi worked really well under that pressure to get things up fast. She had an ownership mentality and didn’t pass the buck or pretend something could happen when it couldn’t. It made expectations really clear and it’s something we all appreciated,” Ben said.
“So much of our specific procurement items like pens, paper and top-level supplies happens in August and September, and it’s like that for most schools. By October, you enter a low hum with spend. What else are you going to buy, right?” Ben explained. “By the time the school year is progressing, at our scale, you’re pretty much in replacement mode. You can only make so many decisions in a year. Maybe in the thick of things, you can decide to stop buying copy paper. But that’s not exactly being proactive, and it doesn’t put your organization at an advantageous position.”
Procurify fit perfectly as a piece of Great Oaks’ tech stack and provided a purchasing process that was separate but compatible with their existing accounting software. As a network of campuses and distributed faculty, Great Oaks has multiples of departments and various teams with unique expenses. Before, those individual spenders at the faculty level didn’t have visibility into what the entire department or network’s numbers were at in real time. That was an issue for Ben, who was trying to make his faculty more empowered and more aware through an investment in technology.
“It used to be that if you screwed your budget up, you wouldn’t really find out the damage until April or May. Now, it could be October and if we’re burning cash up too fast, it’s clearly visible and my team can give me a heads up so we can actually weigh our options and change course in real time,” Ben explains. “Procurify has made us more focused on making sure our team has a good sense of value. What’s the best vendor for us to be using? What’s the best process? Are we budgeting in advance? Now, we’re focused on getting our team more real-time tools like Procurify.”
Visibility wasn’t the only problem, though. The budgeting process itself was manual and mundane, and it was a time-suck for the network as a whole. “Our budgeting process was pretty manual, it involved taking an export from our accounting system and sending it back out so people could see some overall spend. But it was pretty onerous, and we’d only be updating on a quarterly basis because updating that took time.”
Now, Procurify is helping Great Oaks’ purchasers and approvers at every level become more aware of the numbers, and the narrative. “Procurify is important to our budgets not just because of the numbers, but also because of communicating context. It’s not just showing our team that ‘you spent 26 percent of your supplies budget for the year’, it’s also opening the discussion of benchmarks and making everyone ask questions like ‘where should I be based on my specific campus?'"
“That context is important because so many big dollar items come into play throughout the year and it can really throw off peoples' sense of spend. All of sudden you thought you were going to be at $800,000, but so far you're only at $750,000. Now, however, we can log and track everything and understand that ‘it's because I got a great deal on lockers’ or ‘that's because I didn't even buy the lockers yet."
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