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.

Engaging Parents as a Powerful Marketing Tool

By Melanie Horton, Senior Marketing Manager

April 29, 2019

When thinking about how to spread the word about our charter schools and create an enrollment pipeline for future years, we often target parents of prospective students. We organize school tours, hang up flyers at community events, and advertise upcoming open enrollment dates on the school marquee. These are all smart, important marketing actions, but we also need to remember to pay attention to our largest group of built-in ambassadors: parents of current students! When parents are happy, good news about our schools will spread among their networks through word-of-mouth – a powerful marketing tool that can also do much damage if this important stakeholder group is unhappy or ignored.

Assess the Current Situation

Before you can attract new families to your school, you want to make sure the current school community is satisfied with your performance, so you’re not caught off guard when parents of prospective students ask you to explain something they’ve heard. Parents of current students are a great resource when you want an honest review of what is going well and what isn’t. Here are a few easy, helpful ways to solicit parent feedback.

Annual Surveys

Most schools already administer an annual parent survey as a state requirement. Take advantage of this opportunity to understand how happy parents are with current school operations, including areas such as extracurricular activities and course offerings. Make sure the survey is comprehensive but not too long, as we want to encourage high response and completion rates. It’s also important to include optional, open-ended questions that do not limit answer choices. This way, you’re making it easy for busy parents to provide quick feedback, while also giving those with more to say an opportunity to share their thoughts.

Consider sharing the survey results in a parent newsletter or other medium; the more transparent you are with the results; the more parents will feel you recognize and care about what they have to say. It doesn’t stop there, though – to show parents that we value them as critical members of our school communities, we must show a commitment to progress toward improvement. For example, if most parents reveal they are less than satisfied with the availability of extracurricular activities, open this up for discussion at committee and board meetings and invite parents to join a task force to explore options. If we’re all talk and no action, parents will eventually catch on and assume the school has no interest in their opinions.

Focus Groups

While surveys are a great way to get high-level feedback about broad categories of school operations, it’s also important to be able to take a deeper dive into more specific topics. We can accomplish this by organizing parent focus . Keep the groups on the small side – no more than ten participants – so that all parents have the chance to speak up and don’t feel overwhelmed by a large group. Make sure to offer participants the chance to provide written feedback as well in case there is something they don’t feel comfortable sharing in a group setting. While you can still structure the discussion around more broad categories to make sure you touch on various topics, be sure to invite parents to comment on anything that is on their mind.

During the focus groups, make sure to encourage participants to share thoughts about what they are happy with as well as what they think needs improvement, so we know where we should continue to focus resources and where we might need to make changes. For example, if parents share that they are dissatisfied with the current library hours, school leadership can open this up for discussion at committee and board meetings to decide if it is financially and operationally feasible to extend library hours. If parents express excitement at the new STEM-focused programs, we know this is a valuable investment we should continue to explore.

The focus group initiative can be led by a school site council, on its own or in collaboration with a parent advisory group. It’s important to advertise the focus groups in multiple places to encourage participation of diverse groups. For example, schools can include a call for focus group participants in the parent newsletter, in materials for various parents’ group meetings, or by making an announcement at a parent event such as a regular “Coffee with the Principal” or information night. While continuity among participants is important and helps us to stay accountable, we should open the groups to new participants every now and then to make sure we’re receiving feedback that is representative of our audience. If the group gets too big, it can be split into multiple groups. In terms of meeting frequency, because these are more intimate conversations that we want to be able to build on, try to meet two or three times per year.

Create A Culture of Feedback

If we make the feedback process a regular part of school operations, parents will get used to sharing their thoughts and the quality of feedback will continue to improve. This will also train school leaders to become comfortable with both positive and negative feedback and consider it an integral part of school site planning, as well as alert school leaders to potential areas of improvement to be considered when putting together the school budget or setting the class schedule or activities calendar for the upcoming school year. Most importantly, it will signal to parents that your school values their feedback and wants them to be happy with the choice they made for their child. Happy parents translate into positive word of mouth marketing and a stronger pipeline of future students!

Moreover, this culture of feedback will lead to stronger relationships with parents and encourage them to get involved with school initiatives. This increased engagement will allow you to build a critical support network of volunteers and advocates with a genuine interest in helping the school to meet its goals and strengthen its presence in the community.

Use Feedback to Inform Marketing

In addition to promoting positive relations with parents of current students, feedback can be used to inform marketing efforts that aim to attract new parents. For example, if several parents of current students mentioned in a focus group that they are impressed by the school’s robotics program, school leaders can plan to include a stop by the robotics room during the next school tour to show it off to families considering the school as an option for their child.  Similarly, if survey results have shown that access to Advanced Placement courses is of high importance to parents of current students, school leaders will know to highlight this on the school website and in marketing materials distributed to parents of prospective students.

Conclusion

While it is important to be thinking of how to attract parents of prospective students and secure enrollment for future school years, it is also important to remember not to lose sight of our most important stakeholders – the families we currently serve. This group is our most helpful window into what we are doing well and how we can improve.  After all, we can only provide new families with a quality public school option if we’re successful in our current endeavors!

Tackling the Challenges of Central Office Hiring for Schools

By Guest Blogger Kevin Bryant, Principal, Edgility Consulting

March 1, 2019

Not much is written about hiring practices for central office staff in schools, and understandably so. Teachers make up the large majority of hires made by individual schools, districts and charter networks. Also, the important work of educating students happens in classrooms and science labs, not in office cubicles, so this hiring is rarely a priority in our work until we have a “fire drill.” Still, central office hiring is an important function of many schools and networks, with serious implications for school organizations when poorly managed.

Central office teams oversee vital regulatory and business functions, and many of the most successful districts and CMOs rely heavily on support from these professionals for valuable expertise and added capacity. Therefore, these hires matter. For some organizations, these teams are made up of only a handful of employees, for others a few hundred. During my time at Uncommon Schools (a charter school network headquartered in the New York area), we were over 200. Regardless of size, the work of these teams can range from accreditation and curriculum design to HR and external relations. Ultimately, how well schools are able to serve students, depends on how well central office teams are able to support schools.

Challenges of Central Office Hiring

As one might expect, a limited budget often tops the list of constraints facing central office hiring managers. However, many other challenges exist as well. Here is a quick list of challenges central office recruiting teams and hiring managers often face.

External factors, such as:

  • Competition for talent from (big budget) private sector employers. (At Uncommon, we were at battle with giants like Goldman, Google, and JP Morgan.)
  • Fewer alumni on staff often leading to fewer referrals.
  • Less recognizable brands often leading to less overall interest from job seekers.

Internal factors, such as:

  • Outdated and slower to update systems and process improvements.
  • Long hours for less pay.
  • Less well-defined career paths.
  • And, many times, a culture that is slow to terminate for underperformance. (The education sector wants to have strong business functions, without the accountability of the business sector. Ultimately, it is schools and kids who suffer.)

Sadly, these conditions often create a “revolving door” of high-quality talent, as employees are drawn to greener pastures with better pay or greater appreciation. With their departures, go a wealth of institutional knowledge, and recruiting teams and hiring managers are again faced with an unwanted, often unanticipated central office hiring process. A vicious cycle with an unrelenting grip on our time, and attention.

Potential Solutions

That is, until we choose to fight back. See, despite the frustrations and challenges of central office hiring, there are certain advantages to our nimbleness and flexibility. Schools are finding innovative approaches to improve student performance. We, too, should be finding creative ways to overcome our hiring challenges. The traditional model of hiring is outdated and ineffective. Here is a quick list of recommendations for moving central office hiring in a more thoughtful and strategic direction:

  • Win over otherwise outpriced candidates by appealing to their desire to make a difference and leave a legacy. (Ex: Work as an IT specialist, and volunteer to teach an after-school coding class once a week)
  • Offer generous benefit plans to offset the pay gap (Ex: health and dental plans, PTO days, 403b matching, etc.)
  • Attract additional candidates by offering greater flexibility (Ex: flex-days, or other remote work options. At Uncommon, we had the freedom to work from our Home Office or at a school campus.)
  • Revisit hiring a back-office provider or outsource certain services to redirect funds and focus to classrooms and schools.
  • Offer leadership opportunities aligned with organizational priorities, or social movements. (Ex: At Uncommon, I was invited in my second year to join a diversity-recruitment focused steering committee.)

This list is not exhaustive, but directional. Begin by answering the question, “what can we as a school uniquely offer to top candidates?”

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!

Organizational Design for Charter Schools: A Case Study

By Christina L Greenberg, Co-Founder & Partner, Edgility Consulting

May 16, 2018

“”Every company has two organizational structures: The formal one is written on the charts; the other is the everyday relationship of the men and women in the organization.”  – Harold Geneen

Among all the things I have learned working with schools over the past fifteen years, perhaps the most important lesson is that each school community is a distinct organism with a culture, traditions, and character all its own. This does not mean that best practices from a particular school cannot be leveraged or applied at another, but it does mean that we need to be sensitive to the site context and culture when making recommendations. This is especially true if the best practices we are considering require change on the part of current employees and/or the functional division of labor and organizational structures in which they sit.

One of the areas where I think schools have the most to learn from other organizations is in their talent management practices. And one of the core talent management practices that many growing school organizations ignore at their peril is the imperative to create a clear and appropriate organizational design, reporting structure, and job responsibilities along with a transparent salary schedule that is evidence-based and reflective of broader market trends.

Case Study 

About 18 months ago I was brought in by a small but growing charter school organization to help them evaluate the effectiveness and appropriateness of their non-teaching staff roles, responsibilities, and reporting structure. The principal and many of the staff had started there when it was a brand new, stand-alone school six years before. Based on parent demand and its academic success, the school decided to expand the grade levels they served, creating an elementary and middle school program.

In planning for this change, school leaders had spent time developing and implementing a model for the increased educator capacity they would need including demand for new classroom teachers, specialists, and other instructional staff. They had modeled the facilities needs that would result from an increase in enrollment and ensured that their student enrollment and thus budget revenues would cover these updates. Finally, they hired one new school leader and promoted others so they would have adequate instructional leadership for their expanded grade levels. In short, they did all the things that most schools in their situation would do in preparing for an expansion or replication of an existing academic program.

The one thing they didn’t plan for, though, was the need to update their projections and expectations for leaders and staff who did not sit squarely on the academic side of the house. They still had one single office where all non-teaching staff worked, with an open reception area and a few offices along the perimeter for more senior staff. The Director of HR, Data Analyst, and other admin team members would regularly get pulled into conversations with parents around school routines or student health and discipline matters even though there were dedicated receptionist/assistant staff that should have been managing those types of issues and inquiries.

In addition to the lack of physical separation between what we would typically consider “central office” staff and those dedicated to school site activities, there was a lack of clarity regarding who reported to whom and who was in charge of which functions. All of the clerical/admin staff felt overworked, in large part because they each felt they were supposed to be involved in everything but did not understand who had ultimate accountability for most core activities. Small matters like preparing flyers and ordering food for events took on outsized importance as the office lacked clear systems for ownership of even low level tasks. And finally, job descriptions were nonexistent or out of date while salaries were inconsistent – some employees seemed to be paid outside the market range (either too low or too high) without a clear rationale.

Areas of Concern

This school approached our firm to help them sort out these challenges and come to resolution on these key questions:

  • What is the difference between school site and central office staff and how do we delineate between these folks in their titles, duties, reporting structure, and where they physically work in the building?
  • How do we adjust our previous org chart, reporting structure and roles/responsibilities for staff as our school organization expands? Once we develop the ideal org chart for our team, how do we evaluate the skills and interests of our current team to discern which roles are appropriate for whom? And finally, what do we do if we don’t see a match between someone’s skills and interests with one of our new positions?
  • How do we start to identify inefficient practices and workflows on the non-instructional side of the house and how do we communicate these areas for growth to the rest of the team without people feeling personally challenged or that their work (and thus their job) is threatened long-term?

Project Outcomes

Before jumping to recommendations, we started by first examining what staff members were currently doing in their jobs in the hopes of then being able to pinpoint areas of inefficiency or where too few resources were being allocated to ensure staff success. We asked the school’s HR lead to require employees to track their time over a one month period, i.e. listing the tasks they worked on, category of work those tasks fell under (i.e. admin work, data analysis, parent communication, etc.) and duration of each activity. In addition, we scheduled one-on-one interviews with every admin team member, from receptionists to directors and senior school leaders. With each, we discussed what they saw as their core responsibilities, what challenges they faced in completing those tasks, and what they liked best and felt most confident in within their current duties.

Once we had a sense of the current state of the organization, we then turned our attention to best practices research to design the ideal for: how responsibilities should break down in terms of teams and individuals; how to ensure functional areas are covered in an efficient way; and a reporting structure that maximized current staff talents and future needs. We gathered sample org charts from a dozen similar sized charter school organizations as well as interviewed several talent leads and administrators at those schools to find out their answers to some of the questions above.

Both of these steps – diagnosing the current state and looking at how others have solved similar problems – led us and the school leadership team to realize they needed a much clearer line between staff who were primarily responsible to a specific school site and those whose purview was broader, requiring them to be more separate from the school both physically and in terms of job accountability. The leadership team decided to put up physical barriers between the school reception desk and the office space dedicated to admin who worked on HR, accounting, and data so they could have a quiet space and sustained, uninterrupted time to work.

We also realized that having a corps of admin generalists did not serve anyone’s interests well, and thus managers needed to be much more specific about what each person needed to manage and to whom they reported. This meant that some folks had to give up responsibility for things they were used to being a part of while others had to change who they reported to and thus adjust to a new manager. At the same time, it also meant each job was more specific and narrowly tailored to a common set of responsibilities, and targeted a similar range of competencies that better match skills and abilities that tend to go together (i.e. external facing interactions with community members vs. detail oriented, paper-based tasks).

With a new org chart, coherent job descriptions, and evidence-based salary schedules in hand, senior leaders decided to open up these positions to the public for the first time in years. Managers met individually with staff who could be affected to talk through the reorganization plans and share new job titles and responsibilities. Current staff were invited to apply for any of the roles and were given priority for interviewing. In the end, most people were able to stay, either in a very similar role or by shifting to a new, more defined job title and set of responsibilities. One person did end up leaving because there was not a role that fit her expectations. (In this case, the organization honored her service by giving her time to search for a new job and providing her with positive references.)

When we checked in one year later, school leaders were feeling much better about how the office runs. They appreciated the benefits of tightening up on accountability and reporting structures, and observed a large boost in employee morale as a result of improved role definition and focus.

What We Learned

In this project, we were reminded that although it can be tough to tackle reorganization head-on, not acting and just hoping things will work out can be a much worse outcome for everyone involved. By starting with gathering and analyzing data about the current state of affairs, collecting artifacts and examples around best practices, and then using both of those – as well as your own intuition and understanding of your organizational culture – to craft a new org design (including roles, responsibilities, and clarity around lines of accountability), you can dramatically improve office efficiency and morale, thus better serving your instructional team and – most importantly – your students, in the process.

About the Author

Christina L Greenberg is Co-Founder and Partner of Edgility Consulting, a leading executive search and talent management firm serving schools and nonprofits in the education space. Her practice has a particular focus on the talent needs of small- to mid-sized charter school organizations. Christina is originally from the Bay Area, lived in LA for almost a decade, and for the last 14 years has lived with her family in Oakland, CA. She is a long-time board member of Lighthouse Community Public Schools, a charter network with two schools serving grades K-12 in East Oakland.

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!

Strategic Planning for Charter Schools: A 101 Guide

By Guest Blogger Jonathan Kaufman, Co-Founder & Principal of  Third Plateau

One of the biggest missed opportunities we see among charter schools is operating without a strategic plan in place. LCAPs and charter renewals are necessary and useful, but they are far from a substitute for a strong strategic plan. For most school leaders, that then begs the question, “Okay, but what is a strategic plan and how do I get one?”  

A strategic plan is a document that sets a bold vision for what an organization wants to accomplish and outlines the path to make that vision a reality. Unlike LCAPS and renewals, strategic plans are internal documents, meaning they are never audited by an authorizer or the state. This means that a school can be aspirational and audacious in its thinking and planning, and include goals that it could never risk including in a compliance-focused LCAP or renewal. By giving your stakeholders the freedom to dream big without compliance restrictions, you’re helping to push the school to higher levels and reminding everyone why the school exists in the first place. Simply put: strategic plans allow school leaders to be far more authentic regarding what they care about and why, truly rallying their teachers, boards, students, families, and community around a bold vision and purpose.  

Even more important than the document itself, the strategic planning process is exceptionally valuable. A successful strategic planning process takes about six months and does four things: 

  • Takes an honest look at what’s going well and what’s not. This means asking tough questions and giving honest answers. For example, if your four-year college attendance rate hasn’t shown improvement over the last few years, avoid excuses and identify the root causes. Perhaps more supports are needed for students struggling with certain subject areas required for admittance into four-year colleges. 
  • Solicits candid input and feedback from supporters and detractors. There are bound to be uncomfortable discussions, but it’s better to address those head on than to pretend the underlying issues don’t exist. 
  • Enlists a wide range of stakeholders to co-create the plan. Create a strategic planning task force and make sure to invite representatives from all stakeholder groups, including teachers, staff, board members, students, parents, and community members.
  • Empowers a school and community to take ownership over the future they are trying to build. It’s easier to generate buy-in for your strategic plan when there are genuine efforts to identify opportunities for improvement, and when all groups are represented and informed.  

Great schools are driven by great strategic plans. So what are you waiting for?