Tackling the Challenges of Central Office Hiring for Schools

By 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  • Outdated and slower to update systems and process improvements.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?”

Why Now is the Best Time to Revise Your LCAP for Next Year!

by Jennifer Reyes, Ed.D., Educational Support Services Manager

October 2, 2018

California charter schools, think back to your experience updating your 17-18 LCAP.  Did you feel overwhelmed by too many goals and metrics?  Outdated actions and services?  Unclear budgeted expenditures?  Lack of available data for any of the sections?  If you experienced any of these frustrations, now is a great time to work on revising your 19-20 LCAP.

Why now? 

A central tenet of the Local Control Funding Formula is the engagement of all stakeholders in the process of updating and revising a school or district’s LCAP.  Starting the process now allows you time to bring the needs to your advisory bodies, Board, staff, parents, and secondary students.  If you work on the LCAP now you can engage your school site council in understanding the LCAP and develop proposed changes. Then you can bring it to the school community for input all in time for a smooth update next spring.

By contrast, schools that rush through changes in the spring may find there is no time to consider all relevant data and develop a plan that has full support and staying power.

What to do?

Here are some examples of changes schools can make to increase the relevance of the LCAP and improve the process:

  • Organize your metrics under a few (3-5) powerful goals that all stakeholders can articulate.
  • Set up your financials according to LCFF guidelines for base, supplemental, and concentration funds.
  • Update your actions and services to convey your school’s current initiatives.

A fall or winter revision also frees up the time you need to focus your spring efforts on the 18-19 LCAP Update that is due July 1. You will need to collect and analyze data from the current academic year during this time.  The LCAP process provides greater flexibility to LEAs to plan and measure their success, but at the same time demands a new level of organization, involvement, and transparency.  If your LCAP could use some improvement, there is no time like the present to get started!

If you have any questions about your LCAP or LCAP Support Services, feel free to reach out to Jennifer by filling out this form and she will get back to you.

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.

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.

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?  

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

By Jacqui Runholt, AP & Business Process Specialist

November 29, 2017

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

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

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

Five Minutes of Practical Fundraising Advice for Charter Schools

By Melanie Horton, Senior Marketing Manager

October 24, 2017

All charter schools can use a few extra dollars to fund projects and programs that support the success of their students. Wherever your school is with its fundraising strategy, there’s always room for evaluation and improvement. We’ve put together a list of four simple actions schools can take to increase donations, as well as a few quick tips to help strengthen the connection to potential and existing donors.

Four Fundraising Actions Your School Can Take Today

1. Participate in #GivingTuesday: Celebrated the Tuesday following Thanksgiving, #GivingTuesday was started in 2012 as a way to harness “the potential of social media and the generosity of people around the world to bring about real change in their communities” (www.givingtuesday.org). The movement provides an opportunity for charitable organizations to rally their communities and encourage donations to their causes, and has grown rapidly over the last few years. For #GivingTuesday 2015, 700,000 donors contributed nearly $117 million, and the hashtag earned 1.3 million mentions on social media and 114 billion Twitter impressions! You can find several resources to help plan for #GivingTuesday 2017 at givingtuesday.org, including a social media toolkit and ideas and case studies specific to schools. Don’t worry about implementing all the recommendations the first time you participate; you can start by incorporating #GivingTuesday into your existing social media plan, and set aside time well in advance next year to develop a more comprehensive strategy.

2. Register on Amazon Smile. Amazon Smile donates 0.5% of the price of eligible purchases to the charitable organization of your choice. There is a simple registration process, so you will need access to the school’s EIN and bank account information. Once you are registered, remind parents, teachers, staff, and other stakeholders to bookmark amazon.com, where they can select your school as their charitable organization of choice; they only need to do this once, and all future eligible purchases made at smile.amazon.com will result in a 0.5% donation to your school. Once an individual makes a purchase that results in a donation, they’ll be able to view and keep track of the total amount donated to the school across time; this is a fun, useful feature that allows donors to see the collective impact of several small donations made by members of the school community across time.

3. Remember to ask donors if their employer participates in a matching gift program. Most people are not aware their employer offers a matching gift program, leaving potential fundraising dollars on the table! Make sure to include this reminder on your website’s donation page, as well as in any direct mail fundraising campaigns. While there is technology available for purchase that can be linked to your school’s website, which allows donors to check their employer’s matching gift policy and guidelines on the spot, this is easy to do without the help of extra tools. Just include a simple, noticeable message that prompts donors to ask if their employer, or their spouse’s employer, participates in a matching gift program. You can also prompt donors to check a box if they already know they have access to a matching gift program, and remind them to proceed with the necessary paperwork. Asking donors to check a box makes it easy for you to follow-up about matching gifts.

What happens next? The donor will then need to request the proper paperwork from their employer (as well as verify that the school is eligible for a matching donation) and submit a matching gift form to your school. Upon receipt of the form, a school employee will need to confirm donation from the individual, and submit the form to the employer.

4. Register with local supermarkets and other retail stores. Several retailers offer programs that allow customers to donate a percentage of their purchase to the charitable organization of their choice. For example, Ralphs’ has a Community Contribution Program that allows rewards card users to select a community organization to donate to. The process varies with each retailer, so it’s best to pay a visit to your local retailers and ask if they have similar programs.

5. Don’t leave grant money on the table! There are hundreds of grant opportunities available to charter schools, some of which require no more than a simple application form It can be difficult to make time to focus on grant writing when there are so many other things to get done, which is why EdTec offers flexible grant research and writing services for busy school leaders.  Set up a call with us for more information and sign up to receive our monthly grants email.

Two Ways to Strengthen Your School’s Fundraising Program

1. Make your case. The stronger your story, the more compelled your stakeholders will feel to give. Is your per-student funding rate less than the state average? Less than the neighborhood school district? Share these facts with your audience, and include numbers when you have them. You’ll also want to include a list of things you aim to accomplish through fundraising, be it reducing class size, purchasing new musical instruments, enhancing facilities, or starting an after-school STEM program, as well as a tally of funds raised to date (if any) and what you’ve been able to accomplish as a result. Give your potential donors proof that their money will be put to good use!

2. Be thankful! Always send timely thank you notes, preferably within two weeks of receiving a donation (and sooner if you can). While it is a nice gesture to send hand-written notes, this is not always feasible, especially for larger schools. Have a template thank you note ready to go, personalize the letter with the donor’s name and donation details, and ask the school’s principal or executive director to sign it. You might also consider putting together an annual publication that recognizes donors for their contributions, and includes information about the projects and improvements that were made possible by their generosity. Donors will enjoy being recognized, and be more compelled to give in the future.

Grow Your Enrollment Applications With School Tours 

Use tours as a marketing tool to reach prospective families and tell your school’s story.

by Melanie Horton, Senior Marketing Manager

July 10, 2017

You’ve gone through all the hard work of starting a charter school.  Your programs are successful and your students are doing well. But you’re still struggling to meet your target enrollment numbers each year.  Success on its own will not automatically generate a waiting list; you must arm prospective parents with information about why your school is a strong educational option for their children.  Because while school choice provides the opportunity for your school to exist in the first place, it also creates competition.

Tweet: Most charter schools don’t have a large marketing budget, but there’s a lot you can do that doesn’t cost much at all. Start by offering tours of your school. Advertise these tours on social media and at local community events. Get in touch with the local homeowners’ association or chamber of commerce, and ask if you can speak for a few minutes at the next meeting. Talk about your school’s mission and how you serve local families, highlight recent achievements, and invite community members to take a tour of the school and/or pass along the message to those with school-aged children.  Reach out to local churches, community centers, and businesses, and ask if you can post flyers on their bulletin boards.  Make sure to include the tour schedule along with your school’s website, phone number, and social media information so that those who wish to contact you about tours are able to do so.

It’s important to get the tour logistics right. Aim to schedule tours at times that are convenient for working parents, such as early in the morning or during lunch hours.  Make sure to keep the tours under an hour (you can always assign staff to stay later and talk to families who aren’t in a rush). If you’re not sure when to schedule the tours, ask a few parents of current students for their input. Maybe evenings and/or weekends work best for your community.  In that case, you might not be able to implement all of the suggestions below, but at least you’ll have a captive audience.

It’s helpful to capture visitors’ contact information so you can stay in touch and monitor interest in your school across time. Create a simple sign-in sheet – the data gathering is easier if this is done on a tablet or computer – that includes the  parent’s name and email address, and the prospective student’s current school (if applicable), and ask visitors to sign in when they arrive for the tour. Knowing where prospective students are coming from will help you to target future communications efforts, and having a database of email addresses of interested families makes it easier to keep telling your school’s story after the tour. If your school sends  newsletters to current parents, include your new contacts in future newsletters to keep them informed of all the great things happening at your school.

Start a cohort of student ambassadors who, along with school staff, will participate in the tours and talk about their experiences. This is especially valuable at the high school level, as parents tend to bring their children on the tours, and they often have questions that only current students can answer.  Inviting parent volunteers to participate in the tours is also beneficial, as they can speak to why your school is a good fit for their families.

It is helpful for the tours to be led by an administrator and a teacher, as both offer valuable perspectives and can answer different questions about the school, its programs, and policies and procedures.  If possible, divide the visit into a school overview (complete with a short question and answer session), and a walking tour. During the presentation, remember to highlight what makes your school unique, including interesting programs and classes, innovative learning methods, and awards and achievements. Invite the student ambassadors to give a quick presentation about something they’re involved in at the school, and invite parent volunteers to speak about parental involvement.

Parents like to know what their child’s day-to-day will look like. On the tour, make sure to visit at least one classroom in action; you can create a rotating sign-up schedule in advance so there isn’t any last minute planning on the day of the tour. Guests don’t need to sit down and observe the class, but they will appreciate being able to pop in and note the setup and size. If possible, visit both a core subject classroom (e.g. math or science) as well as a music or arts classroom. Also plan to stop by areas that are unique to your school, such as a school garden or robotics lab. For larger schools,  parents might be interested in seeing key facilities such as the gymnasium and theatre.

Make sure to provide visiting families with something they can take with them that will aide in their decision-making process. Create a simple one-pager that includes key statistics about the school, such as enrollment, average class size, special programs and classes available, graduation and college statistics (if applicable), contact information, and enrollment/lottery dates and details (there will likely be a lot of questions about this last one, and you want to make sure everyone has the information they need – after all, this is the point of the tour!).  You don’t need to be a graphic design expert to create an effective document, and free online tools like Canva and HubSpot can help with layout and design.

If anyone on the tour has a question you can’t answer, note their contact information so you can follow up with them when you find the answer. And make sure your main office staff is knowledgeable of the school and trained to answer questions, or direct inquires to the appropriate people, when they receive follow-up phone calls.

When guests leave the tour, they should have a clear understanding of what your school is all about. This is a valuable opportunity to connect with prospective families and brag about your school; make the most of it!

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

Originally published November 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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