Prepare for Your Audit! Steps 5 & 6: Review and Submit Your Audit 

By EdTec Staff

November 14, 2018

You’ve made your way through the first four steps of the audit cycle – now all that’s left to do is review the audit report and submit!  For California charters, these last two steps occur in November and December.   

Contents of an Audit Report

An audit report contains 14 sections. See the chart below for a summary of the information included in each section, as well as why each section is important.

While all sections of the report contain useful information, the most revealing is the Audit Year Findings section, where the auditor addresses issues identified throughout the auditing process that represent a deficiency in the charter school’s internal controls. There are two types of findings – a material weakness, which is the most severe finding; and a significant deficiency, which represents a less severe finding but still warrants flagging and correction. The auditor’s findings outline what the charter school did or did not do that was incorrect or improper, as well as the generally accepted expectation for what the school should have done. The findings also provide detail around the impact of the deficiencies on the school’s financial statements, as well as recommendations for what school leadership should do to resolve these issues.  

Common audit findings for charter schools include inadequate resourcing or tagging of restricted fund activity; missing documentation such as credit card receipts; lack of adherence to purchase or approval policies and thresholds; untimely deposition of funds; improper capitalization of assets; and compliance issues.  

Reviewing the Audit & Preparing a Response

It is important for school leadership to review the audit report for accuracy of information, as well as to make sure they understand all findings. For example, were the findings a result of a lack of adequate policies in place, or rather a staff violation of existing policies? Then, staff must prepare a response acknowledging or contesting the findings. The response should provide additional context and/or an outline of corrective action to be taken, where appropriate. Perhaps the school plans to draft revised purchasing policies or increase education and training to make sure all staff understand the current policies.  

This response is typically prepared by the school’s business office staff, who may find it helpful to reach out to their back-office services provider for assistance with explaining previous actions, as well as with implementing new policies and processes designed to help prevent future findings.  Some responses may also require consultation with legal counsel. Once complete, the response should be reviewed by the charter school board before submission to the auditor.

The Final Step 

Once the board has reviewed the response and has signed off on the rest of the audit report, the auditor will submit a final report to the designated authority. Audit reports for California charters must be submitted to the California Department of Education by December 15.  

 

 

Part 2 Rethinking Compensation: A Tactical Guide

By Allison Wyatt, Founding Partner, Edgility Consulting

September 10, 2018

In our last blog post, we noted that compensation ought to address the needs of teachers and staff, as well as to the organization’s own objectives. We recommend that you start with establishing a sense of just how competitive you want your compensation to be, and in what specific roles and markets.

Ask your team and board:

  • What is our total value proposition?
  • How competitive do we want/need to be?
  • Where are we in our growth cycle?
  • What is it that we want to reward in this organization?
  • Who are our staff?
  • How do we balance paying competitive market rates with maintaining internal equity?

Doing the Research: How to Study Market Rates

To create a market-based compensation structure, you’ll need to understand where you stand relative to the market, which depending on your organization may include the local school district, similar organizations, as well as other nonprofits, public agencies, and even companies who might be competing with your organization for talent in key roles. Wherever possible, stick to comparisons with your own organization’s industry, mission, geography, and budget/staff size.

To find comparable compensation data, consider searching:

  • Job postings
  • Industry-specific surveys
  • Publicly available data, such as district pay scales, nonprofits’ IRS form 990s (which report pay for the mostly highly compensated employees in each organization) through Guidestar or the Foundation Center, and databases like Transparent California, which logs compensation information for public employees in California

Try to use at least three sources to ensure that the data is sound. At Edgility, we are wary of sites like Glassdoor and Payscale, who sometimes report salaries for jobs based on a very small sample size. We prefer specialized databases like CompAnalyst, which is updated monthly to keep up with fluctuations in the market and covers more than 4,000 benchmark jobs gathered from comprehensive employer surveys.

Creating a Compensation Structure

With data about your organization’s compensation philosophy and comparable market salaries in hand, you can then consider building a pay structure, including:

  • Pay grades or levels, in which similar jobs are grouped together. For example, an entry-level data associate, a reception clerk, and a paraprofessional might all be included in the same grade, with the averages of their market salaries used as the midpoint for that grade, or you might group all principals or program managers in the same grade.
  • Pay ranges or salary spans within those grades or for each role — according to ZipRecruiter, the range typically extends 30% range of the midpoint or average market salary for a junior or support role, 40% for mid-level management, and 50% for executives. New hires tend to earn around the middle of that range, and experienced top performers earn 80-100%.

For particularly large or complex organizations, pay schedules may be created, which vary by business line (in the case of a school organization, this may vary between school sites and the central office) or by location based on the cost of living and competitor salaries in that market.

For example, the National Center for Montessori in the Public Sector suggests this starting point salary schedule for teachers in public Montessori charter schools, along with benefits, 2% yearly step increases, periodic retention bonuses, and stipends for taking on additional responsibilities.

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Finally, map current jobs and salaries against the new structure to determine whether your new compensation structure matches existing pay, including whether there is equity across levels, roles, and other characteristics. You’ll get an immediate sense of whether there is equity across the organization, and whether there are adjustments that need to be made.

What Matters Most: What Happens When You Address Compensation

Organizations that take a strategic, research-based approach to compensation find that new employee salaries are easier to set, and that existing employees feel more properly valued and compensated.

“Compensation analysis helped us determine highly beneficial changes that are attracting and retaining top talent,” agrees Margaret Winnen, Director of HR & Talent Development for College Track.

At Compass Charter Schools, Superintendent & CEO J.J. Lewis says his team recently shared a new compensation structure and benefits package with staff, who were pleased that salaries will now account for past teaching experience. Teachers and non-instructional staff will also receive bonuses tied to criteria like workload, enrollment, and student performance.

Over time, happy and appropriately compensated employees translate into less turnover, more stability, and greater productivity — an effort we think is well worth the cost.

About the Author

Allison Wyatt is a founding partner at Edgility Consulting, which finds the leaders that education organizations need to make a difference. Prior to launching Edgility, Allison built and scaled a human capital consulting practice at a national retained executive search firm. In addition, she has served as the vice president of human capital for Education Pioneers.

Part 1 Rethinking Compensation: A Matter of Value

By Allison Wyatt, Founding Partner, Edgility Consulting

August 31, 2018

Staffing is a critical ingredient for any education organization — and finding the right people has never been tougher. For decades, the supply of new teachers has been slowing down, particularly in critical subject areas such as math, science, and English language learning, as well as in high-need low-income schools. Enrollment has dropped in both traditional teacher preparation programs as well as alternative certification routes like Teach for America.

Meanwhile, the rising Millennial generation tends to avoid teaching, wary of what they perceive as a difficult profession with few upsides. “Our generation is impatient and eager to take on greater responsibility and assume leadership roles. Most school districts just aren’t structured to do that,” laments former teacher Jonathan Cetel.

Indeed, across the teaching profession, satisfaction has been decreasing — particularly among teachers of color and those most needed in high-need subjects and schools. “The teaching workforce continues to be a leaky bucket, losing hundreds of thousands of teachers each year—the majority of them before retirement age,” note analysts at the Learning Policy Institute.

While teachers leave for a whole host of reasons, including poor school cultures and lackluster working conditions, compensation is a very real part of the problem — but also a promising part of the solution.

Balancing the Pay Scale

Many education organizations, particularly startup schools trying to make the most of every grant and per-pupil dollar, worry primarily about paying too much for the talent they recruit. In a previous post on this blog, EdTec found that charter schools spend 59% of their budget on salaries and benefits, with brand new schools spending a bit less (53%) and established schools spending more (64%). Many schools choose to hire brand-new teachers and Teach for America corps members in order to stretch their funding, while others pinch pennies on principal and central office salaries so as not to raise board member eyebrows or public scrutiny.

But the cost of paying too little can also add up fast. For every employee who leaves, a district or school spends thousands more on recruiting and training their replacement — as much as $20,000 per employee, finds the Learning Policy Institute. That adds up to a teacher turnover tab of somewhere between $2.2 billion and $7.3 billion nationally each year — not to mention the time and energy required by existing staff to do the recruiting and training, let alone the effect of these frequent changes to colleagues’ working dynamics and to schools’ relationships with students and their families.

Of course, compensation is not a silver bullet for all staffing needs, nor should it stand alone. Compensation should be tied to overall organizational objectives, and to the needs of teachers. Teachers believe in fairness, equity and transparency, and are interested in being compensated for years of experience and degrees (even though research shows that neither of these measures are tied to student learning). Generally, research has found that teachers are not interested in pay-for-performance but somewhat more interested in incentive pay for teaching in hard-to-staff subjects and schools, as well as differentiated pay based on responsibilities and on value-add or growth in student learning.

For example, my organization Edgility Consulting worked with Compass Charter Schools, an online school with 100 staff members serving 17 counties throughout California. Compass recognized that they were competing with more online and brick-and-mortar schools throughout the state for talent, but had no formal compensation structure in place. “2017-18 was a year of both change and growth for Compass. As part of this change and growth, we sought to better understand our competitiveness in the marketplace and if we were being fair and equitable with our total compensation with our staff, as compared to our peer charter schools,” says J.J. Lewis, Superintendent & CEO of Compass.

By conducting focus groups, we learned that teachers and other staff were generally satisfied with their current salaries (although some felt their prior teaching experience was undervalued), but wanted greater equity across the team and more transparency into their earning potential. We helped Compass create a compensation structure with clear guidelines, that recognizes prior teaching experience, and with bonuses tied to student load, student success, and program quality.

Considering Central Office Compensation

Of course, compensation considerations must also extend beyond teachers to include principals, administrators, and other staff, who may be even more likely than teachers to be considering non-education jobs as alternatives to their school-based roles.

For example, we conducted a study of central office compensation for ACE Charter Schools, a nonprofit charter school operator in San Jose, California that now runs four schools serving about 2000 students but is considering national expansion. ACE had recently completed a salary study for teaching staff and wanted to ensure its central office staff were being paid market competitive rates. Upon comparison with districts and charters of similar scale in the San Francisco Bay Area, we found that ACE was generally paying competitively, and provided them with market data to communicate that to staff. In addition, we offered ideas on other types of rewards and recognition to help these employees feel valued.

We also studied the central office compensation of Mastery Charter Schools, a charter school turnaround operator with 24 schools in two states that serve 14,000 students. Mastery was hoping to be more transparent, consistent, and competitive as it grew. Using external market research, we developed market-based salary ranges, mapped internal positions to the structure, and identified staff who fell outside the structure as well as scenarios for reconciling that discrepancy.

Likewise, education nonprofit College Track is a national college completion program that empowers more than 3,000 students annually to earn a college degree and achieve upward social mobility, with more than 100 staff in California, Colorado, Louisiana, and the D.C. Metro Area. They “re-benchmark” their compensation every few years against a set of larger and more complex organizations in order to stay competitive.

We now understand how our compensation and benefits compare to similar organizations in our industry and geographic markets and we were able to get clear on role descriptions and the markets in which they compete, as well as assess our benefits package overall,” says Margaret Winnen, Director of HR & Talent Development for College Track. For example, the compensation analysis highlighted distinctions between different program roles that in turn yielded better comparable salaries to use as benchmarks, and indicated that a more competitive family leave plan would be more valued by their employees.

The Comp Curve: Watch the Road Ahead

Typically, teachers’ dissatisfaction with their salary — as with their working conditions and opportunities for growth — tends to grow as they gain experience. As such, you should be sure to take into account increases over time, and consider developing not only fair compensation frameworks but rather full career pathways that address professional growth and fulfillment as well as pay.

For example, we studied the compensation at Benjamin Banneker Charter School, a single site charter school in Cambridge, Massachusetts with high satisfaction and low turnover. This is despite the fact that Banneker pays their teachers below the market median. The school invests that saved money in robust professional development and significant flexible funds for student projects and field trips. Teachers feel supported, but are also groomed for and promoted into leadership roles. We worked with the organization to establish clear guidelines for salaries and raises based on experience, but teachers were adamant — they would not trade higher salaries for those other more important benefits.

For more guidance on how to go about studying your organization’s compensation against the market and setting up a clear, equitable, and transparent framework — as well as more details on the results these organizations have achieved by clarifying their own compensation strategies — check back next week for our follow-up blog post.

About the Author

Allison Wyatt is a founding partner at Edgility Consulting, which finds the leaders that education organizations need to make a difference. Prior to launching Edgility, Allison built and scaled a human capital consulting practice at a national retained executive search firm. In addition, she has served as the vice president of human capital for Education Pioneers.

Prepare for Your Audit! Step 4: The Main Audit.

By EdTec Staff

August 8, 2018

You’ve selected an auditor, communicated with them frequently, and completed the pre-audit steps. Now it’s time for The Main Audit. This phase involves all information as of the fiscal year close and occurs between August and November. During this stage the audit firm will perform fieldwork at your school and request sample financial transactions from the school administration.

What Happens?

During the pre-audit or interim audit, most audit firms do as much as possible for items not dependent on the fiscal year being closed. Now is the time to tackle the information as of fiscal year close.

Pay close attention to:

  • Financial activity immediately following the close of fiscal year
  • Information and how it has or has not changed from the unaudited actuals
  • Subsequent events, all important financial or relevant school events that occur after year end

School administrators should be prepared for the auditors to test financial information by selecting a sample of transactions and requesting back-up (invoices, receipts), as well as perform procedures on financial statement balances. The auditors will ask for specific documentation to provide evidence that the school is following all necessary policies. Take the time and effort to organize all your financial information and back-up ahead of time so that everything is readily available upon request.

You should expect your auditor to do fieldwork during late Summer or Fall either at your school or at the office of your back office provider (such as EdTec), if you are using one. The in-person work usually takes around 2-4 days. Nowadays, with a lot of information being stored on internet accessible platforms the need for fieldwork is beginning to diminish. Confirm the plan with your auditor and establish when and how the fieldwork will take place.

How Do You Facilitate?

During the pre-audit, you should have created a plan that outlines how you will provide information to the audit firm. Stick to that plan. If possible, try to create an electronic share space to place your school’s financial information and make it available to the audit firm. This ensures an organized and expedient way to share information.

If your audit team is coming to your school location, a dedicated physical space for the auditors is crucial. Take the time to set aside a room or space and confirm that it will be available when the auditors visit.

The audit firm will generate requests for more information as they are conducting testing. It’s important to be responsive to prevent holding up the process or requiring them to stay on site longer than necessary.

Example for CA Charters: Auditing the LCAP

The auditors will begin by selecting an action or service from the LCAP that your school (LEA) has identified as having expenditures.

You will then be responsible for guiding the auditor as to how they can find those certain expenditures in the general ledger.

Having all your documentation and back-up clearly organized and accessible will ensure the main audit runs as smoothly as possible.

Auditor’s Next Steps

Even when fieldwork is over, there’s still a lot of work for the auditors to complete. They need to follow up with outstanding items or tests being conducted after the main fieldwork and organize audit work and documentation. They also need to prepare a list of audit adjustments, if any are required, double-check all work, and conduct peer and partner review of work papers. Lastly, the auditors will provide a draft of the financial statements for your review.

When discussing timeline with the contracted audit firm, it’s important to make sure this time-frame is discussed and included in planning.

Conclusion

If you have done a good job communicating with your auditor during the pre-audit and have your files ready to share for testing, the main audit should take place without any unexpected setbacks. Be prepared to discuss any changes from the unaudited actuals and explain financial activity following the fiscal year close. Remember to have a space dedicated for your auditors and work hard to response to their requests quickly. The faster the main audit can be completed, the easier for all parties involved and the less likelihood of having issues.

Stay tuned for our next and final article on the audit cycle, the Audit Report Review and Submission!

Prepare for Your Audit! Step 3: The Pre-Audit

By the EdTec Client Management Team 

March 22, 2018

In our last blog post, we covered the first two phases of the audit cycle: Auditor Solicitation and Auditor Engagement. In this post, we’ll take a deeper dive into the third phase, the Pre-Audit. This phase occurs between April and June, and involves the auditor’s first visit to the school and frequent communication between the auditor and school leaders.

Once your charter school board has selected an auditor, the first step will be working with the auditor to establish a timeline for the final report. Keep in mind that you’ll want to leave enough time to conduct a thorough review of the audit report, so the earlier you can begin the pre-audit, the better.

During the pre-audit phase, it’s important to ask questions as they come up. Remember, your auditor is a resource, not an adversary, and they want a clean audit just as much as you do. The pre-audit phase is designed to prepare the school for the main audit, so now is the time to clear up any confusion about the process, test internal controls and compliance, and remediate any issues before the end of the fiscal year.

As you prepare for the auditor’s first visit, there are a few things you’ll want to get in order so the visit runs smoothly. It is helpful to have reviewed the segregation of financial duties, prepare an explanation for significant or complex transactions, and gather key documents. These documents include internal controls policies and procedures, paperwork related to pending legal matters, as well as copies of significant transaction such as leases and loans, new contracts with service providers, and new grant agreements. Your auditor may also ask for financial documents such as trail balances and check registers.

In addition to making sure your financial house is in order, the auditor will need proof that the school has been keeping up with state reporting compliance. Well in advance of the first visit, start compiling copies of all state compliance records and supporting documentation, as this process can be quite time consuming. This documentation includes:

  • Student records, bell schedules, calendar, instructional minutes
  • CALPADS Fall I reports (1.17, 1.18 and 8.1)
  • English Learner, Free/Reduced Lunch Program records
    • CELDT or ELPAC scores for EL/RFEP students
    • NSLP or alt. income form for all students reported as FRL
    • Direct Certification reports (3 reports pulled throughout the year)
  • Teacher credentials
  • ASES attendance reports and supporting documentation
  • Attendance records
    • Copy of P2 and all supporting documentation
    • Detail and Summary for testing month
    • Teacher signed verification for testing month

Whenever possible, provide your auditor with electronic documentation to keep everything organized, and try to fulfill their requests in a timely manner to avoid delays; remember, delays now mean you will have to rush during the main audit phase later. If you have any concerns about being able to produce certain documents, share them with your auditor as soon as possible so you can work together toward a solution. Lastly, remember to share major new developments with your auditor as they occur; your auditor will need to know about plans to open a new school or take out new loans, or expectations of new funding sources, as this will impact your school’s financial situation.

Once it’s time for the actual visit, make sure you set aside ample time to meet with the auditors to provide an overview of the school’s operations and review their questions about the school’s policies and procedures. This will set the stage for a smooth and efficient visit.

The pre-audit phase is designed to prepare your school for a successful main audit. Treat your auditor like a true partner; don’t hold back any information, be clear and timely in your communication, be open to suggestions regarding how to improve processes, and ask questions as they come up! And stay tuned for our next blog post about the next phase of the audit cycle, the Main Audit!

Prepare for Your Audit! Steps 1 & 2: Choose an Audit Firm and Engage

By the EdTec Client Management Team 

December 12, 2017

An audit is an official, independent review of your charter school’s financial statements by an approved CPA. An annual audit is required of charters in most states.  

There is much preparation required before the annual audit.  The timeline below breaks up the charter school audit cycle into multiple phases and includes suggested dates. In today’s blog post, we’re going to focus on the first and second phases: Auditor Solicitation, which all schools should ideally start preparing for in September, and Auditor Engagement, which should be completed by April 1. If you’re not there yet, there’s still time – but you should start now!  

Charter schools must select an auditing firm at a publicly noticed board meeting, and contract with the selected audit firm by April 1 of the current fiscal year (e.g. you need to select an audit firm for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2018 by April 1, 2018).  Before this can be done, a charter school’s board must issue a request for proposal (RFP) from auditing firms. You can find sample RFPs for audit services online, or ask your local charter schools association or peers at other charter schools. A school’s letter to auditors should include the school’s legal name, address, and contact person; years of operation of the school; history of prior audits; status of 501c (3) application; fiscal year to be reviewed; enrollment and ADA data for fiscal year to be reviewed; if the school is site-based or independent study; if federal expenditures will exceed $750K; if the school also requests tax filing services.  Remember that you should only reach out to auditors listed on your authorizer’s approved vendor list. You might want to ask peers at other charter schools for auditor recommendations, as this can be helpful advice.   

Once you have proposals in hand, it’s time to bring them to the board for review and voting action. There are a few key qualities that are important for board members to look for in an audit firm.  Preferably, the auditing firm will have experience working with charter schools and understand how they operate; if your school is in its first year of operations, you’ll want to work with a firm that has experience working with first-year charters. An ideal firm will also be responsive to questions and proposal requests, as this is an indication that there will be good communication during the auditing process when pressing questions arise and the school requests feedback and support. It’s also important to select a firm that seems to have a reasonable, fair mentality.  

Many districts and county offices of education require some sort of notification of the selected audit firm, along with cost information and certification that the firm is authorized to conduct school audits, and some may require notification prior to April 1, so be sure to check with your authorizer. And be on the lookout for our upcoming blog post about the third phase of the audit cycle, the Pre-Audit! 

Tax Season Is Coming…Get the 411 on 1099s!

By Jacqui Runholt, AP & Business Process Specialist

November 29, 2017

You may not be a tax expert, but if you work with vendors that provide services to your charter school, you’ll need to know the basics about 1099s. A 1099 Form is used to report income from self-employment earnings, as well as interest, dividends, and other earnings, and you’ll need to submit these forms to eligible vendors and to the IRS. We’ve put together a few tips to keep in mind leading up to tax season:

  • Any vendor that is paid to provide services to your school could be eligible to pay taxes on 1099 income. As a best practice, get in the habit of requesting W-9’s from all your vendors when you start working with them, so you have the information you need to issue 1099s when the time comes.
  • Start reviewing your vendor list now so you’re not scrambling to meet the January 31 deadline!
  • If your charter school leases its facilities, the rent expenses may be reported on a 1099 Form.
  • If you’re not sure if you need to submit a 1099 for a certain vendor, just go ahead and submit it. The IRS will know whether a vendor is eligible. It’s better to be safe than sorry.

The due date for submitting 1099s to vendors and to the IRS is January 31st, but don’t wait until then. If you’re done at the beginning of January, submit! Corrections can be made through the end of March.

School Leader Summer Reading: Cleaning Up Your School’s Payment Processes

by Dena Koren, Senior Client Manager

July 3, 2017

Now that your 2017-18 budget is approved, it’s time to start preparing for the upcoming school year. The (slightly) less hectic summer months are a good time to review the school’s financial policies and procedures to make sure everything is in place. With that in mind, here are a few thoughts about one very important topic in this area: payment methods!

For many of our clients across the country, we see the same problems around navigating how to pay for supplies and services: school leaders want to be nimble and responsive to their team, but they also worry about managing the budget and following policies and procedures for the audit. Not an easy task!

As a school, you have several different payment methods at your disposal:

  • requesting a vendor invoice – perhaps matched with an internal purchase order (PO) – and paying that vendor by check
  • reimbursing employees or volunteers
  • maintaining petty cash at your school or central office
  • using a debit card associated with your bank account, or
  • paying by credit card

While there are reasons and occasions to use each of these, I strongly recommend using the invoice (and PO, if you have a PO process) and paying by check as often as possible!

The benefits of an invoice and check are:

  • Visibility into what you’re buying
  • Documentation and authorization that clearly follow your financial policies
  • Savings driven by consolidating orders and purchasing through contracted vendors
  • Cash management because you can readily control when checks are written

Because a well-run invoice and check process is centralized through your business staff, the ostensible drawback is that you are strictly controlling and slowing down the purchasing of materials and services. This may feel limiting to people! One way you can address this is to keep a regular weekly schedule of ordering and negotiate fast shipment times with your vendors. Another method can be purchasing portals like Staples.com or ClassWallet.com or purchasing systems like Procurify, which can allow individuals to order through a single source and follow the approval process.

For other payment methods, limit usage to the needs that they address best. Here are a few examples:

  • Employee reimbursements: mileage and meals when traveling, fingerprinting fees, limited emergency supply purchases
  • Petty cash: making change in the front office for school purposes (e.g., break a $20 or give change for the purchase of a school t-shirt), pay an emergency plumber who only accepts cash
  • Debit card: if you have a school credit card, almost nothing. The reason is that debit cards take money directly out of your account, potentially bypassing internal authorization and increasing the risk of missing documentation. If you don’t have a school credit card, then see the “credit card” section below for some reasons you might need your debit card.
  • Credit card: ah, a necessary evil! Let’s talk about this in greater length . . .

With so many digital purchases done online via credit card now, it is nearly impossible to avoid getting a school credit card. But be sure to create a robust credit card policy to go along with it! Think about both the card uses and the mechanics for your policy:

  1. Who will have a school credit card? Keep this limited, perhaps only the office manager, executive director, and/or principals. Note that it’s likely that either the cardholder or someone else at the school will need to personally guarantee the card. It’s difficult for charters to get small business cards that do not require a guarantee.
  2. What can be purchased on the credit card? Keep this limited as well, for example: travel expenses, team appreciation dinners, conference fees, specialty supplies (can be a slippery slope, so be careful!).
  3. What cannot be purchased on the credit card? Make this list robust to show you’re serious, for example: curriculum, books, school supplies, computer equipment or technology, field trip entry fees, yearbook vendor fees, refills on postage meter.
  4. How will credit card owners document purchases? Several best practices are: require all receipts to be submitted within one week of the close of the CC statement; outline consequences if documentation isn’t provided (e.g., CC usage suspended until receipts submitted); ensure that purchases of a certain level are pre-authorized; and ensure CC statements are reviewed by a supervisor (note: make sure your most senior school leader has a member of the board reviewing and signing off on his or her CC statements monthly).

One final take-away for your financial operations – It’s ok to make purchasing and payment a little inconvenient! The slight inconvenience will help ensure that you are conscious of your spending, you are staying in line with your budget, and you have everything you need when it comes time for your annual audit.

Landing Your 2017–18 Charter School Budget: Finalizing your budget for the next school year

by Dena Koren, Senior Client Manager

June 6, 2017

It’s June, and many charter schools are scrambling to put the finishing touches on their charter school budgets for the 2017–18 school year. This can be frustrating and overwhelming given all the moving parts —finalizing staff compensation, collecting final proposals for next year’s contracts, deciding which software and curriculum to use, tracking down charter school budget plans from all the department leads, and of course, the state budget revisions… all while trying to finish out the school year!

Here’s my advice: Don’t sweat it! There is no way you are going to have all of these items finalized by the time you need to send your budget to the board for approval (likely this week or next week!). Plus, there are many aspects of the budget that are completely out of your control. Instead of worrying, try this approach:

1. Pick two or three areas of the charter school budget you’re going to focus on in the 11th hour. These should be areas of the charter school budget that are either your most significant sources of revenue or expense, or have caused problems in the past. And don’t pick “staff”! (See my next suggestion below for wrapping up your compensation budget.) Once you have picked your areas of focus, set aside a designated time (~30 minutes for each area) to dig in and try to firm up the assumptions — then put a bow on it! Once the year starts, and you have more information, you can work with your Finance Director or adviser to adjust the annual forecast to include all your latest knowledge and assumptions.

2. For staffing, again — do your best! Finalize the charter school budget with the information you know now, and include reasonable and conservative assumptions for the things you don’t know. At some point, you have to stop trying to get everything locked up and just go with what you have. But being conservative will help you avoid the frustration of going over budget down the road.

3. Make a list of the areas where you feel assumptions aren’t solid, and over the summer, push to solidify them. Also, be upfront with your board about the areas of uncertainty (note: no need to share every uncertainty, just the ones you feel are the biggest opportunities/risks). I find that outlining the missing information at a high level actually strengthens the board’s comfort with the financial plan. The board members will appreciate the transparency and feel reassured knowing you are aware of the uncertainties and on top of all the moving parts.

For most charter schools, budgeting is an art, not a science. There are countless details, many of them unknown or unknowable, so we just do our best with what we have and keep pushing for improved clarity as the year goes on!

Finance & Operations: 5 Key Things Every Charter School Leader Should Know

Originally published November 2015

Here at EdTec, we have the fortune of working with many school leaders, both seasoned and new to the charter world, which allows us to see the most effective school leadership practices.  Many new school leaders have brought successful strategies implemented in their classrooms to their new roles as executive directors.  Inevitably, however, there are aspects of managing a school that fall outside the comfort zones of school leaders and board members, such as finance and operations.  While most grow to develop skill sets in these areas, it can take time to develop those skill sets, and for those brand new school leaders, going into the job with the full knowledge base required to successfully run a charter can feel impossible.  But there is hope!  This article highlights questions that routinely come up from directors who have had to adapt to the unfamiliar financial and operational demands of their position.

  1. What key concepts do I need to know to monitor my school’s financial position?

The following indicators should be examined when building or managing your school’s budget.  You should understand these concepts to gain a sufficient understanding of your school’s financial situation:

  • Balance Sheet vs. Income Statement: In financial accounting, the balance sheet and income statement are the two most important types of financial statements. A balance sheet lists the assets and liabilities of the school as of a certain date. These may include receivables and payables (see accruals below).  An income statement, also called a profit and loss (P&L) statement, is a report for revenues and expenses over a specific time period, usually a fiscal year.
  • Operating Income: The most basic financial indicator you will need to monitor on an ongoing basis is your school’s operating income, which is derived from the income statement. This figure is simply the amount of revenues received minus the amount of expenses your school incurs in a given fiscal year. In the business world, “operating income” and “operating profit” are often used interchangeably.
  • Depreciation: It’s also important to understand the effect that depreciation will have on your school’s operating income. Depreciation is a method of allocating the cost of a tangible asset over its useful life. If your school purchases technology for $10K that has a useful life of five years, $2K of that expense will be realized each year over the course of those five years.  This means that the operating income may only be reduced by $2K each year for accounting purposes, but the full $10K still had to come out of the school’s checking account at the time of purchase.
  • Fund Balance vs. Cash Balance: The fund balance is the net worth or equity of the school. This is measured by its total assets (all that the school owns that has a monetary value and enhances its worth) minus its total liabilities (all that the school owes in debts and obligations). In other words, it is the net amount of money the school has accumulated over its lifetime (the sum of each year’s operating income since inception).  The fund balance is a good indication of the long-term financial health of a school.  Similar sounding, but distinct, is the cash balance: the amount of cash the school has in the bank at a given time.  Keep in mind that your fund balance will likely not equal your cash balance, because your fund balance represents all of your assets, not just cash.  Assets include cash and any payables or receivables, or land and equipment that is being depreciated.  When examining a cash flow statement, the projected cash balances indicate whether your school can meet its obligations on time.  If that balance is positive, you will be able to pay your bills and employees on time; if it is negative, you will not, and will need to figure out a way to manage those shortfalls through negotiating with vendors or borrowing money.
  • Accruals: Accrued expenses are liabilities which are recognized on your books before they are paid for, while accrued revenues are assets which are recognized on your books before they are received. Remember, accruals are a big reason for the difference between fund balance and cash balance. Depending on the accounting system your school uses, accruals can be booked differently.  Despite the differences, however, it’s essential to know that at the end of each fiscal year, there will be a significant percentage of current year funds that the school is still owed, but those funds won’t actually be received until the following fiscal year.  Accruals are those amounts that are still remaining past June 30 that count as current year revenue even though they aren’t received in the actual current year.  The same applies for expenses that are incurred before June 30, but paid out after June 30.
  1. What are the big-ticket items to keep in mind when managing this year’s expenses and starting to budget for the next?

While you might stress over whether you should budget $5K or $10K for professional development, an additional set of textbooks, or extra office supplies, it is important to remember that these are smaller-scale, discretionary expenses.  Other more rigid, bigger-ticket items determine the amount left over for those discretionary items.  Taking the time to address the big-ticket items that are within your control well before the start of a new school year will enable you to maximize the amount of funds that remain for day-to-day programmatic expenses, and any extras you can afford.

  • Special Education encroachment costs typically fall somewhere in the wide range of $300-$1,000/ADA if the charter acts as a school of the district for Special Ed purposes. If you are unhappy with the services received for the associated costs, then don’t view this as a set cost in the long term. Evaluate how the district compares to becoming your own LEA and joining a charter SELPA, where you will receive the Special Ed revenues and avoid the district’s encroachment, but will need to provide the Special Ed services to those students in need.
  • Rent costs can vary wildly depending on the terms of your school’s lease. Evaluate whether the school’s current space is serving its needs well. If it is, explore whether there might be room to negotiate lower rent for the coming year.  If it isn’t, explore what other options may be available within your area.  Additionally, can you request facilities from the district under Prop 39, or can you seek reimbursement for part of your school’s rent through SB 740 or CSFIG?
  • Various services can represent a significant decision point for schools: in-house personnel or outsourced provider? When sourcing services such as food providers, custodial, back-office, or other consultants, hiring in-house is the option that likely affords you the most flexibility. It also requires benefits and employer contributions, as well as the cost of any associated supplies needed to fulfill that service. On the flip side, using an outsourced provider may provide cost savings and may simply be less of a headache, allowing the school to keep a smaller, more streamlined staff focused on the instructional program, while avoiding the hassles and costs of addressing staff turnover in those areas.  If pursuing this option, make sure the vendor is competitively priced for the services or service level being offered and can fulfill the specific needs of the school.
  1. Examining this year’s budget: Is an operating loss acceptable? How much?

You should be making any necessary expense cuts in order to maintain a balanced budget and an operating income that will meet your authorizer’s requirements for minimum reserves.  Note that the longer in the year you wait to make cuts to ongoing expenses, the less effective they are in preserving your operating income.  Because it is relatively early in the school year, making the hard decisions now will save you headaches later when it is too late to make any fiscally meaningful changes.

While projecting an operating loss should never be taken lightly, if you’ve already made all the cuts possible and cannot cut further without significantly jeopardizing your program, projecting a loss may be a last resort only if you have a healthy enough fund balance to sustain the loss.  If you have a positive fund balance that is larger than your projected current year loss, your fund balance will at least remain positive at the end of the year, after taking this year’s hit.  If you find yourself in this position, it will be crucial to work with your board and financial advisors to examine two specific areas as you consider how much of a loss can be sustained:

  • Cash: What are the cash projections throughout the year? If cash flow looks tight from month-to-month, spending decisions should be determined more by short-term obligations than annual budget considerations. If cash balances are healthy, however, assessing cash flow is not quite as imperative to your overall approach to budgeting.
  • Fund Balance: Has the school accrued substantial reserves from prior years resulting in a positive, strong fund balance? If so, tolerating a loss in this year’s budget will not jeopardize the school’s long-term financial health, if there are essential elements to your program that cannot be sacrificed. However, your school will not be able to sustain this approach for long, as authorizers will want to see fiscally sound, sustainable projections come time for charter renewal. Accepting an operating loss for the year should be an absolute last resort, and only if your school has the fund balance to sustain it.
  1. Cash flow financing: How do I evaluate options if my school is in need of cash?

Managing limited funds can be one of your more stressful financial responsibilities as a school leader.  Given the nature of the timing for charter schools’ revenues and expenses, even a positive operating income and fund balance can sometimes lead to cash shortfalls.  You are responsible for evaluating whether borrowing is the right solution for your school.  There are three crucial questions to ask:

  • How much does the school need to borrow?
  • How long will the school have to repay?
  • What is the interest rate and what other fees (e.g. origination or management) are involved?

It’s important to think about the long-term implications of the questions above.  Any interest or fees will not only limit the amount you can borrow, but will also decrease your operating income for the year.  Additionally, it’s important to think of those fees in annualized terms.  If your school will need to pay 5% in fees to borrow money for two months, that would be comparable to a ~34% annual percentage rate (APR).  Evaluating options on an annualized percentage basis will also help you weigh multiple borrowing options, as you are then comparing apples-to-apples.

Throughout this process, continue to ask the bigger picture questions that have implications for your school down the road:

  • Why am I short on cash? Is it a temporary issue, or is it systemic within the school’s financial planning?
  • Does borrowing cash now put me in a position to need to borrow again in the near future?
  • Where in the budget can I make cuts to balance the additional cost of borrowing money?
  • What is my long-term plan to develop cash reserves to reach sustainability?
  1. Getting your ducks in a row: What do auditors look for?

Contrary to common expectations, auditors do not focus on whether your school is doing a good job.  Rather, auditors’ main function is to evaluate whether your school is telling the truth about the job that it’s doing.  This means that they assess the accuracy and compliance of your school’s attendance records, financial statements, and some procedural items such as resolutions passed by the board and the financial controls in place at the organization.  In the end, auditors make a determination about whether your school is at risk of no longer being a “going concern” (meaning the school is able to continue operations in the foreseeable future), but the bulk of their work is to ensure that your school is fairly stating all financial information.

If you are a new school leader, you may be looking for the auditor to tell you that the school is doing a great job.  More likely, if things are going well, they will inform you that the school is doing a sufficient job and is in compliance.  For example, if things are not going well in the auditors’ eyes, their reason will not be that attendance is too low; instead, their reason may be that attendance is inaccurate according to the reports submitted versus the daily records.  The setup and organization of attendance files, documentation of invoices and payments, backup for any deposits made, contracts or MOUs signed for the year, and board agendas/minutes/resolutions are all items that require substantial record-keeping for auditing purposes.  Make sure whoever oversees operations at your school is continuously evaluating the compliance of these auditable items throughout the year.

Financial management can be challenging even in the best of fiscal times.  However, keeping these basics in mind can help you meet those new school year resolutions.  And remember – never be afraid to ask for help!