Public Charter Schools Grant Program

Streamline Your PCSGP Grant Application with EdTec

The California Department of Education has announced a request for applications for the Public Charter Schools Grant Program (PCSGP) 2023-24 Start-Up Sub-Grant.

The PCSGP Start-Up Sub-Grant is intended for the planning and implementation of newly established or conversion charter schools who did not begin serving students prior to July 1, 2022, as well as the expansion and replication of high-quality charter schools. Replication and Expansion applicants should note that the 2023–24 PCSGP Start-Up Sub-Grant RFA includes updated high-quality eligibility criteria.

Application Deadline: December 18, 2023

Your Path to PCSGP Funding Starts Here

Securing funding for your school can be a complex and time-consuming process. That’s why we offer expert support for the Public Charter Schools Grant Program (PCSGP) Start-Up Sub-Grant application process.

Proven Success: Our experienced team has a proven history of securing PCSGP funding.
Budget Friendly: We offer flat fees or hourly rates that suit your school’s budget.
Customized Support: Whether you need assistance with the entire writing process or just one step of the process, EdTec has you covered.

Ready to explore how EdTec can be your partner in securing funding for your school? Reach out to our team today to learn more about our support for the PCSGP Start-Up Sub-Grant and discover how we can help your school achieve its funding goals.

Making the Most of the Relationship with your Charter School Back Office Partner | Part 3 of 3

August 18, 2023

You’ve worked hard to choose the right charter school back office services partner, now it’s time to make the relationship flourish! A good relationship is built on a foundation of mutual understanding of expectations, roles, and responsibilities. Read on for a few best practices and tips for a smooth working relationship.

Clarify Responsibilities

Understanding what your charter school back office partner will provide for your school is critical. Once a school leader and board understand what is covered, they can fill any remaining gaps with additional staff or staff allocations to particular tasks. This understanding aids in the efficient completion of back office tasks and avoids costly mistakes that can be time consuming to fix.

Communication is Key

Address any communication and information transfer issues with internal staff and the back office partner quickly so efficient business routines are established from the outset of the relationship.

Quality Checks Start on Day One

Address response time and service level issues early so they do not become a problem. Gently, but firmly, keep the provider accountable for what is included in the contract to ensure that your needs and expectations are being met. Just as you do not settle for substandard work in the classroom, do not settle for it from your back office partner. And remember: excellence in the classroom can either be furthered or inhibited by the quality of your back office operations.

Delegate Internally

Assign a point person who is responsible for communicating with your back office partner for each function (e.g., accounts payable, payroll, etc.) Additionally, assign a person or team of people (e.g., school leader and board member) to oversee the work and make sure it all ties together. For example, a board member who is comfortable with financial statements should review the financial reports of the service provider and communicate questions and/or concerns.

Take the Time to Understand Your Financial Situation

Schedule time each month to review the financials in detail to understand your school’s current financial position, review budget variances, and discuss what assumptions are informing the forecast updates Even with a back office partner, charter school leaders will always need to be involved in critical decisions to ensure the financial stability of their school, and the board has fiduciary responsibility for the school.

Seek Guidance

Don’t hesitate to call upon the charter school back office support company for support. That’s what they’re there for; they’re your partner!

As a school leader, you put tremendous time, energy, and effort into ensuring that your students have the best teachers and the necessary resources to reach their potential. To ensure that your charter school, both as a business and learning center, reaches its highest potential, you need access to the finest support and resources.

If you’re interested in learning more about EdTec’s back office services and how we can support your school’s success, fill out the form below!  

charter school back office questions

Critical Questions to Ask When Choosing a Back Office Partner | Part 2 of 3

August 7, 2023

This is the second post of a three-part series on the stages of partnering with a back office support company for charter schools. The first part of the series explored the benefits of using a high-quality back office support company

Once your charter school has decided to work with a back office support company, the school’s leadership and board will need to determine which one is the best fit. A back office support company should be more than simply a vendor; it should be a strategic partner that has as much invested in the success of the school as the staff and board! While the handling of tasks and transactions will free up more time for you to focus on the school’s academic program, a true partner will help to align your budget and operations in support of that academic program.  

With so much at stake, it’s important to ask the right questions to ensure that your school makes an informed decision. The following questions will help you determine where your school needs support, understand the services included in the back office bundle, assess the company’s flexibility in adjusting to your needs over time, and evaluate their service delivery staffing model and overall experience.  

Where do we need help?

The foundation for any successful relationship is knowing what you bring to the partnership and what you need from your partner, so it is crucial that the school staff and board do their research and carefully choose a provider that matches those needs. Identify the gaps in skills and knowledge of your staff and board. Do you already have a well-staffed business office and need a bookkeeper to provide transactional support, or are you looking for CFO-level guidance to help you plan for financial stability? Do you need support finding and financing a facility? Are there certain back-office functions that you want to keep in house?

What specifically is included in the service bundle?

Understand what is offered and what is not. Seek detailed clarification on pricing, depth, and frequency of services. For example, how often are cash flow and budget forecasts updated? Does the company provide audit support? What tools are made available to the school for on-demand visibility to its financial data? Will company representatives attend your board meetings to present updates and answer questions? Then determine if those services and tools match the expectations and needs of the school staff and board.

Can the service flexibility adjust to my needs over time?

Ask if the provider will tailor services to your needs or if it’s a one-size-fits-all approach. What defined service level options are available? Further, as your school evolves and your needs change over time, will the provider adjust its scope to meet your requirements?

What is the service delivery staffing model?

Find out if the provider has specialized staff with deep expertise in each functional area or if a single individual is attempting to wear multiple hats. Ask how many schools are assigned to your primary support resource and find out each company’s staff to client ratio. Additionally, clarify if you will have direct access to transactional support teams to troubleshoot issues as they arise.

What will the service delivery experience be like?

While the back-office services described by different companies may appear to be similar on paper, there can be tangible differences related to service delivery approach, support levels, and communication. Your best course is to spend the necessary time speaking with current clients of each provider to hear firsthand about their experiences. You might ask about responsiveness to requests, turnaround time, accuracy in reporting and projections, knowledge of compliance requirements, and proactivity in planning for the future. Additionally, don’t be satisfied with a few reference schools that have been selected for you by the provider; ask providers for a complete list of their back-office clients so that you can choose which schools to contact when performing reference checks.

Choosing a back office support company for your charter school is a critical decision that can have a significant impact on the school’s financial and operational success. At EdTec, we understand the unique challenges and opportunities facing charter schools, and we’re committed to providing comprehensive, flexible, and responsive back office services that meet the specific needs of each school we work with. 

If you’re interested in learning more about EdTec’s back office services and how we can support your school’s success, fill out the form below!  

 

Know What You Need to Know to Start a New Charter School

Every year, new charter schools across the country are started by teachers, community leaders, and education advocates with a vision to make high-quality educational options available to all families. There are many things to consider on this journey for your new charter school, including the application process, student recruitment, facility acquisition, authorizer relations, and financing and funding.

We’ll walk you through key items to plan for on the road to opening your new charter school.

Support Programs & Fellowships

There are fellowship programs available that can support the process of founding a new charter school. While not required to be able to start a school, these programs are worth looking into as they provide key financial support and valuable training. The following are a few examples of fellowship programs offered across the country that prepare aspiring leaders to design, create, and lead high performing charter schools:

Building Excellent Schools Fellowship: Over a multi-year process, Fellows hone their school’s vision, develop their leadership skills, and train to found and lead an equitable, high-performing school that reflects the needs of their community.

Diverse Charter Schools Coalition (UnifiEd School Launch Program): DCSC’s UnifiED School Launch Fellowship recruits and prepares future school leaders of excellent, intentionally integrated, public charter schools.

Innovate Public Schools: The World-Class Schools Fellowship coaches and develops school leaders to design and run excellent and equitable schools in California.

Moonshot EdVentures: Surfaces and supports underrepresented leaders in developing new learning environment models of tomorrow in the Metro Denver area.

Charter School Application

The charter school application is the first step towards realizing your dream of establishing a start-up charter school, and it is like writing a business plan in that it includes your mission, growth projections, hiring practices, budget, as well as curriculum design and more. All states with charter school legislation require an application and have a unique approval process.

A common thread throughout your charter school application will be your mission, which is ultimately your reason for being. Your school’s mission statement should communicate what you aim to accomplish and how you plan to meet those goals, and everything outlined in your application should support its achievement.

For help with the application stage, your first step should be to reach out to your state’s charter school support organization as they often provide critical startup support and can connect you to financial and other experts as needed. Some organizations also run charter school startup workshop series (there is often an admissions process) to guide you through the process.

EdTec provides support with the charter school application and budget process.

Student Recruitment

The enrollment pipeline for your new charter school has substantial implications, as funding is based on a per-pupil basis. Creating and executing a recruitment plan and outreach strategy is hard work, especially without a proven track record or facilities.

A good recruitment plan focuses on meeting potential families where they are and effectively communicates why your school is the best option for their children. It is important to spend time getting to know families in your target community and establish strong relationships with them, as they will be your best advocates when it comes time for authorization.

In terms of timing, you will want to start the outreach process as early as possible to create awareness and be able to demonstrate an interest in your school to your authorizers.

Your plan should include tactics and communication activities for each stage in the recruiting funnel: interest, apply, enroll, attend. A best practice is to aim to over-enroll by 10-20% more students than needed. Some potential funnel building tactics and activities include:

  • Knocking on doors: You can involve others from your founding team along with supportive families and community members.
  • Hosting town hall meetings: Either in-person at a community center that is willing to share space, or virtually, which might make it more accessible for working parents. You could ask local neighborhood associations if they are willing to give you time on their meeting agendas so you can spread the word about your school.
  • Traditional media (newspaper, TV, local radio): Inquire if there are free or discounted placements available for nonprofit organizations.
  • Distribute fliers: Post these at grocery stores, churches, museums, and other frequently trafficked areas in your target community.
  • Social media: Facebook is a good place to start, and it is easy and cost-effective to start running ads that target families in relevant zip codes.
  • Newsletters: Keep interested families engaged and informed about what is happening with your new charter school by staying in touch and reminding them of key dates such as upcoming open enrollment deadlines.

Facilities

Charter school leaders across the nation have a challenge in finding suitable school buildings and facilities due to inequitable access and higher costs. According to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, “Access to school buildings is one of the biggest obstacles to expanding charter school choices.”

Finding a location that is suitable or adaptable for a conducive learning environment requires innovation, creativity, and flexibility. As a new charter school leader, your search for a facility should start with how much space you need.

How many students do you plan to have in Year 1? Do you want to grow into your original space, or is this just a starter space? Does your school require unique areas? These considerations will help to define your needs.

To find affordable space, look at ‘borrowing’ community resources that are already available or approach organizations that might be willing to donate or lease facilities. Your search might include office spaces and unused floors in public schools, churches, and university institutions.

Take into consideration that some of these spaces will need to be renovated to meet the requirements for education use.

It is also important to be aware of financing options for your new charter school facility. One opportunity within the federal Charter Schools Program (CSP) funding area provides federal funding to help newly authorized charter schools find suitable facilities. The Charter School Facility Center at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools offers a snapshot of how states are enacting policies to help offset the cost of leasing, purchasing, and maintaining public charter school facilities; see the State Policy Snapshot: Facilities for Public Charter Schools to learn more about your potential funding options.

Staffing

Human Resources (HR) Management is a critical element in starting and operating a successful new charter school. Recruiting, onboarding, and engaging your founding staff using positive HR practices will encourage your team of dedicated teachers and staff to develop and thrive.

Your staffing plan should focus first on hiring your co-captains and main crew, which should include the head of school or principal, operations or office manager, and the lead subject or grade level teachers. Filling these positions with the right people is critical to the success of your school. As noted in The School Leader’s Toolbox: Teacher Recruitment and Selection put together by the New Teacher Project, “The first step to creating a high performing school is choosing the right team. An effective recruitment and selection process brings in strong teachers and sets expectations for a school’s unique culture.”

When hiring, timing is not always on your side, so it is vital to find a balance between in-depth vetting and efficiency. Here are a few recruiting and hiring tips for successful staffing before your first day of school for your new charter school:

  • Hire early: Provides the opportunity to see if they are a good fit.
  • Be strategic with onboarding: Engage new hires with regular touchpoints and share important information such as the charter document and literature on the school’s educational philosophy.
  • Do not neglect HR documents: Work with a legal team to develop a comprehensive employee handbook.
  • Develop well-written position descriptions: This will help to clearly define roles, make employees more productive on the job, and eliminate confusion down the road.

Explore the many resources and hiring portals that are available to help assist in your recruitment, such as local newspapers, specialty newspapers, local colleges, job fairs, school board associations, education job boards such as EdJoin and the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools Job Board, and your state association of charter schools.

Authorizer Relations

Authorizers determine who can start a new charter school, set academic and operational expectations, and oversee school performance (National Association of Charter School Authorizers). Because authorizers are responsible for ensuring schools operate in accordance with their charter, they can also make the decision to close a charter school for poor performance.

Creating an authentic and transparent relationship with your authorizer from the start will help you down the road. Before you open your school doors, it is important to work with your authorizer to understand processes, expectations, and deadlines. Keep in mind that the job of the authorizer does not stop at approval, and neither should your relationship with them.

Here are a few tips to help you establish a good relationship with your authorizer:

  • Be collaborative: Your success is their success and vice versa.
  • Make friends: You both share a common goal of improving the quality of public education.
  • Get a healthy start: First impressions make lasting impressions.
  • Stay up to date: Develop working norms around compliance and reporting.
  • Keep in touch: Maintain consistent communication.

Finances

The financial health of your start-up charter school can ultimately determine your school’s viability. Your new charter school is subject to the same financial audit procedures, requirements, and reports as traditional district schools, and often more. Most charter schools that fail are forced to close for non-academic reasons, most often because of financial difficulties (Center for Education Reform).

Budgeting & Fundraising

Your budget should support the mission and vision of your new charter school by appropriately allocating resources to meet the goals outlined in your charter.

Begin your budget planning process with enrollment in mind. While it is best to aim high and push for a healthy waitlist during recruitment, you’ll want to be realistic with your budget’s enrollment projections as they are used to calculate projected revenue. Your budget should consider all potential costs while cultivating a culture of frugality when it comes to spending, especially in Year 0 to conserve as much as possible for your first few years in operation.

An excellent tool to use is the Cost Estimation Tool developed by the National Charter Resource Center on Charter School Finance and Governance, which helps start-up charter school operators to identify the underlying cost assumptions and use those assumptions to estimate operating costs.

Raising funds for your new charter school can be a challenge since it is hard to gain access to bank loans without a track record. However, there are other funding options to explore. As mentioned above, the federal Charter Schools Program (CSP) provides funding to support newly authorized charter schools, provided your SEA hasn’t already received CSP funding in the fiscal year in question. Other options include grants from local and national foundations, private individuals, and the local business community.

EdTec’s grant writing experts have a proven track record with the CSP grant as well as foundation grants.

Overall, surround yourself with a passionate team that is committed to your mission, and stay laser-focused on the goals you set out to accomplish. If you don’t have expertise in a certain area, know your limitations, and seek help to complement your strengths from charter support organizations, special programs, and service providers.

Starting a charter school has never been easy, but the impact on the future of education is well worth it.

Using Benchmarking as a Budgeting Tool

By Trevor Skelton, Associate Client Manager

June 2019

California charters are full swing into the budgeting season for the upcoming school year, and for brand-new schools to thriving networks, budgeting is never a simple process. We at EdTec often find that benchmarking against historical data as well as data from similar charters is an invaluable tool in assessing whether a budget is built on realistic assumptions. This information should not be used to define an entire budget, but rather as one of many tools used to inform budget formation and key financial decisions. This data also helps school leaders to understand the charter financial landscape, discover inefficiencies in their budgeting practices, and evaluate where and why their budgets may be similar to or different from that of the average charter.

Revenue

From a historical viewpoint, the last five years have seen strong increases in K-12 education funding with the full implementation of the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF), which was enacted in FY14 to replace the previous California education funding system. Between the five-year period from FY14 to FY18, the average charter’s total revenues grew from $9,513 per ADA to $13,078, or nearly 9% per year.

In FY14, average LCFF revenues for charters were $6,887 per unit of Average Daily Attendance (ADA) – in FY18, they were $9,633c a 40% increase as closing the gap toward target funding progressed ahead of schedule. However, not all schools have benefited equally from LCFF. Funding is distributed to schools based on the number of students who qualify for Free and Reduced Priced Meals, are foster youth or homeless, or qualify as English Language Learners. This unduplicated pupil percentage (UPP) of students is a major funding indicator now that LCFF has been fully implemented, with the intent to direct additional resources to students and schools that need them the most. Funding disparities between schools with low and high populations of unduplicated students have grown significantly, as shown in the graph below. Beyond LCFF, federal revenues, most commonly Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) Title funding, also have a direct relationship with unduplicated students. Thus, accurate budgeting, tracking, and reporting of ADA and student demographics via CALPADS are more important than ever in maximizing revenue.

In FY18 the average charter school reported a 64% UPP, so while many have enjoyed increased resources, others have been forced to innovate to acquire resources to make ends meet. For charters, we see that disparities in government funding are often supplemented with local funding where available. In particular and perhaps unsurprisingly, charters located in counties with higher median household incomes, especially the Bay Area and Coastal regions, have the greatest access to these additional resources. Charters with a UPP of below 25% reported an average of just below $1,000 per ADA in local revenue, compared to less than $500 for the average charter.

K-12 education funding is at a point of uncertainty. LCFF has reached target, and FCMAT projects meager 2-3% COLA adjustments in future years – well below the revenue increases of the past half-decade of steady economic growth. An economic recession would certainly impact not just state funding, but local resources as well. Charters will need to be able to adapt and weather a possible storm if they are to survive an uncertain future.

Expenses

In examining statewide charter expenditure data, we see that expenses have grown in a similar fashion to revenue over the past five years. The average charter was spending $8,411 per ADA in FY14 – by FY18, this had grown to $12,011, a 43% increase. Over this time period, California has grown from near the bottom of per pupil spending in all the U.S. to about average[1]. While certainly movement in the right direction, pupil performance indicators, a higher-than-average cost of living, and the uncertain future of LCFF funding all indicate that this is hardly the moment for celebration.

An average charter will spend 60% of its budget on salaries and benefits, so it is essential to understand each piece of the compensation puzzle and to budget appropriately for future considerations. Overall, salaries per ADA have risen 9% a year, a rate of growth charters may no longer be able to afford in the new post-LCFF-target world.

Employee benefits have become a major budget challenge for charters. From FY14 to FY18, the average charter’s spend on benefits grew from 25% of salaries to 29% of salaries. This means the growth in benefits spending has matched and then surpassed the growth in salaries by nearly 20%. As shown in the figure below, this growth was led by STRS, as the mandatory employer contribution rate doubled over this time from its long-standing 8.25% to 16.28% of salaries for certificated staff. This may very well explain why the rate of new charters that chose not to enroll in CalSTRS rose from its steady 10% to 20% in FY15 and 33% in FY16[2]. PERS has also seen rates that have more than doubled in the past decade, while health and welfare benefits continue to soar across the board.

Special education is notoriously difficult to budget for and is extremely underfunded. Based on our experience and data, we estimate the average charter spent at least $1,300 per ADA on special education in FY18. Charters that are a part of a Special Education Local Planning Area (SELPA) may receive SpEd revenues to cover around half of that, but for charters serving their students as a school of the district, it’s not uncommon for district SpEd encroachment fees to exceed $1,300 per ADA.

Finally, we see facilities costs rising across the state for charters with and without SB740 revenues. Facilities costs for charters are rising at a pace of 8-10% per year, translating to over $600 per ADA net of facilities revenues.

For these areas with inherent risk and uncertainty, conservative budgeting with contingencies is imperative in managing school budgets.

Fiscal Health

These data all come together to form a charter’s overall fiscal standing. Overall, California charters have averaged somewhere between $400-$500 in operating income per ADA in any given year for the past five fiscal years, which has allowed them to steadily grow their fund balances. In FY18, new schools saved between 10-20% of expenses, while older schools were able to accumulate greater reserves for future investments and to manage cash fluctuations. Charters had a median of 80 days cash on hand – a comfortable amount for the average-sized charter – and at least 25% had 30 days cash on hand.

While operating income, fund balance, and cash balance are the main indicators of a charter’s financial stability, variance to budget will also be important to monitor. Continuously tracking budget vs. actuals year-to-date for trends and discrepancies can help to identify clear areas of weakness in a school’s financial or budgeting practices. And of course, managing against any debt covenants or authorizer requirements is imperative to staying in good financial standing.

Averages don’t tell the whole story. Every school has variances from the norm, but it’s essential to be able to explain why and understand what the possible financial implications may be. From individual school practices to the California Department of Education’s new LCAP Budget Summary for Parents, we see a trend toward increasing transparency when it comes to California’s education funding and spending. Adopting a practice of regular communication of school budget information and comparative data like this with parents, community members, school staff, lenders, and others can foster engagement and understanding with stakeholders, empowering those most invested in educating California.

 

[1] http://www.teaching-certification.com/teaching/education-spending-by-state.html

[2] https://calpensions.com/2017/09/11/fewer-charter-schools-choosing-calstrs-pensions/

Data Sources: Unaudited Actuals Financial Data (CDE); Public Schools Data Files (CDE); CALPADS UPC Source File (CDE); SB740 grantee lists (CSFA); County Data (U.S. Census Bureau); EdTec Client Data (Note: only includes financial data for charters whose data is available (n = 588 – 927), and thus is not representative of all charters. Sample sizes and composition vary over time.)

Finalizing Your Charter School Budget

By Dena Koren, Senior Director of Client Management 

Updated May 2019 (originally published in June 2017)

The end of the school year is upon us, and many charter schools are scrambling to put the finishing touches on their budgets for the 2019-2020 school year. This can be 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 budget plans from all the department leads, and preparing to present to your Board of Directors… 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 these items finalized by the time you need to send your budget to the board for approval. 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 new school year starts and you have access to new and/or updated information, you can work with your Finance Director or adviser to adjust the annual forecast.
  2. For staffing, again — do your bestFinalize 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 must stop trying to get everything locked up and just go with what you have. But being conservative will help you to avoid the frustration of going over budget down the road.
  3. Make a list of the areas where you feel assumptions aren’t solidand 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 strengthens the board’s comfort with the financial plan. Board members will appreciate the transparency and feel reassured knowing you are aware of the uncertainties and on top of all the moving parts.
  4. 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!

EdTec supports startup charter schools with building strong, compliant charter application budgets, and we work with operating schools to put together annual budgets as part of our back office services. To learn more about EdTec and discuss how we can support your school, please email us at askus@edtec.com.

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!