Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Loaves and Fishes: A Financial Workshop for Catholic School Principals

Editor's Note: This is an outline of a financial workshop given to principals in the Archdiocese of Mobile on November 8, 2007.

Jesus, faced with the needs of many and very few resources, multiplied the loaves and the fishes to satisfy the hunger of the crowd. As Catholic school principals, we are often called to do more with less, and although we can't work miracles, with good financial processes and strategic planning, God will bless our ministry as financial stewards.

A. Good Financial Processes:

1. Two Important SACS requirements:

SACS, Standard 6.15 "Controls all funds raised in the name of the school" and 2.10 "(Leadership) controls all activities, including extra-curricular, that are sponsored by the school"

a) All monies raised in the school's name should run through school's books and require your signature for allocation. PTO, Booster, Band, etc. unless it's a stand alone 501(c)3 charity, recognized as such by the IRS. There should be no separate checking accounts with someone's signature other than your own.

Point of this is not to horde power for yourself. I tell the PTO and Boosters I will never spend their money unless I have a written purchase authorization to do so. But this protects them, first and foremost, because it adds a system of checks and balances that keeps them from being accused, for example, from pilfering funds. It provides them with a professional report each month, because as an account of the school, we can send them balance sheets each month. And, I tell them, we have no choice....its an accreditation requirement. No matter how much you trust the people in these groups now, it is also possible that in the future, a less reliable person will in charge, so the precedent you set now is important as well.

b) The other piece to that standard is that no monies may be spent internally without your prior consent. This may be tougher to get a handle on than convincing PTO's the money must run through school books! No commitment or promises of the school's money may be made, no charges applied, without prior consent of the principal. "Signing the checks" at the end of the process is not enough to meet the SACS standard, and it isn't very good financial management either. This is where the very simple idea of "purchase requisitions" come in to play. These need not be sophisticated instruments. So a teacher, staff, etc. requests purchases, you approve it, they may then purchase it. If they don't know the exact amount, we ask them to give us an educated guess before we approve.

2. So on what basis do we approve or not approve spending?

Three criteria:

a) Is it necessary, as opposed to nice? I will not approve those things I consider a luxury. Our parents work too hard to pay our tuitions and our faculty are under-paid--neither of those argues for free spending of school resources! Explanation of why on p.reqs is important!
b) If expensive ($100+), have they priced the item from 3 vendors?
c) Is there money available? Depends on the accounts.

3. Monthly management of school funds:

a) Administrator's report--note coding--every school fund in the operational budget. Each is a "category" in bold. I only fret about school budgets once/month. I recommend this to you! So when a science teacher hands me a purchase req and says he wants to spend X for new microscopes, I look and see how much $ is left in that account.

b) Board report--summary of categories. Board doesn't need every line item--it both overwhelms, and encourages micro-management. Boards are the big picture over-seer. They may ask questions about a category, and since I have the admin report, I can refer to the sub-category that may be driving a summary category over budget.....

4. "Designated Funds"--

Think of these as savings accounts that are "controlled" by other groups (SGA, PTO, Boosters', etc) or a gift that was given to the school not designed for the operational budget. Money is "designated". This money still resides in the school's savings accounts, but through your school's accounting program, is kept separated from the schools' income/expense of the operational budget.

Examples: Endowment fund, Annual fund drive, Overall SGA account, Senior class account, Athletic savings account, etc.

Restricted and non-restricted. Restricted funds--monies cannot be spent until a target or goal is reached (endowment fund) or unless the money is spent for a very specific purpose (scholarship fund). Non-restricted--more freedom to spend monies, but important that these are spent for things, if possible, for tangible things that are highly public and appreciated by the public.

It's very important that the money volunteers are raising is not going into the "black hole" of the operational budget, but will reside in a savings account as the money comes in until they decide.

5. Preparing Budgets, working with Boards

Several key principles:

1) Important to give Board 5 year histories. You keep these! Because you are intimately involved in the financial process, your understanding of where the school is financially is likely much more intimate than a Board's. Board members need a conext. Someone may say: "Teachers need a big raise, because the public schools just got an 8% raise". That may be true...but what if, over the last 4 years, the school has been increasing salaries by 3% each year?" I believe it's YOUR responsibility to keep these 5 year histories, and I believe as the budget process begins, it's important that you discuss these figures with the Board.

2) Important to know the competition's prices. Your tuition setting may make sense to your internal budget, but it ought to make sense relative to your competition.

--Interesting note: It's not necessarily a good thing to be lowest cost school in town! (Do we feel better or worse knowing our doctor is the cheapest in town?)

--We should also pay close attention to our second/third child discounts. Most of you are principals of K-8, or even K4-8 schools. That's a 9 or 10 year range, which means you likely have a LOT of discounting going on. (When Catholic High, a 9-12 school, became MCPS, a K-12 school, the first thing the Board and I had to do is reduce our discounts for 2nd/3rd children. We couldn't afford it, given the 13 year range. We used to give 1500 off for the 2nd child and 50% off for the third. Too generous. What we do now is simply give 1K off for each additional child. So if 2 children, twice tuition minus 1,000, if 3 children, 3 times tuition minus 2000, etc. We should support our large families as much as possible, but often we give too steep a discount.

--Pay close attention to fees: go light on application fees (you want them to apply, ours is $25), but require some sort of substantial reservation fee in early Spring (ours is due on February 15, $200/child). Fees are a way of raising revenue, without immediately "hurting you" in the public comparisons of tuitions, but we should not nickel and dime parents. We used to have separate capital assessment fee, endowment, activity, PTO, registration and it drove our parents crazy. We've folded all but our registration fee into our tuitions, and are parents are much happier. BTW, so is our finance office, because they don't have to track all those fees and chase parents who are delinquent with them.

6) How we estimate for tuition revenue for next year

Cannot spend too much time on this
How we budget for other line items (use actual #'s from June 30 close-out, not budget #'s from this year. Work off actuals as much as possible)
The biggest variable in expense is how much of a raise we give faculty and staff. I run a couple of scenarios for Board to discuss. If a 3% raise, that will mean X% raise in tuition, if 4%, then Y, etc.
Important that we are VERY conservative. I tend to estimate conservatively when I am projecting numbers I cannot control. I cannot control enrollment, so I am not going to estimate huge growth in enrollment that makes the numbers work! It's better to under-promise and over-deliver! Everyone will be MUCH happier a year out if coming in the black relative to the budget than the red.

II.. Other financial ideas (random)

a. Collecting tuitions. Consider bank drafts. Used to hold report cards. There were 60-70 report cards held for delinquencies. Parents were angry, children embarrassed, etc. Now we have ZERO delinquencies. Office staff more efficient, not chasing down checks.

b. Families want to leave the school with outstanding balances. They can't pay balance now. Don't use promissory notes. People don't keep them, and unless you take families to court, which is a huge head-ache and the diocese will not likely support. Instead, make them write a post-dated check. If the check bounces when you try and cash it, you can report them to attorney general's "bad check division". I was 0 for everything with promissory notes, but batting 1000 with bad checks--we are 5/5. When the check bounces, I write them a certified letter saying they have one week to make good or else I report the bad check to attorney general's office. 4/5 times the money came in within that week. The other time, we did report, and the money came in thereafter.

c. Salary ideas: I am guessing we'd all like to pay faculty more than we can. Here are some ideas to consider, that don't cost us an arm and a leg:

--signing bonuses (to attract hard to find positions). It's only a one time fee and doesn't become a permanent part of salary structure. Also, young faculty in particular often need the money NOW, making your lower salary + signing bonus more attractive than someone else's yearly salary offer. The other advantage is you can have that person sign a memo of understanding when receiving the bonus that he/she must forfeit the entire amount if she breaks contract over course of year.
--pay additional supplements up front (cheer-leading sponsor, for example)--same idea--forfeit if break contract or if they quit their task
--cooperative relationships for housing with parishes--low cost housing for abandoned convent property. Ideal for young person.
--merit bonuses. Channels limited financial resources to the highest performing teachers/staff, even while rest of folks get cost of living increases.
--contact local vendors--like YMCA. Would they be willing to work out a deal where they allow your school to get an institutional membership at a lower than market cost, so our employees can use fitness center? Big benefit to them, relative low cost to school, healthier employees!

d. Cafeteria--consider catering. Hard these days to break even, not the mention the labor head-aches. Vending machines! Drink machines! Big money maker. You can equip machines with diocesan approved drinks--water, juice, diet drinks only! It's a huge loss of revenue not to have these machines. We made about 18K in PROFIT last year on drink machines alone.

e. Books---consider having parents purchase on line. Less manpower head-aches, no inventory losses. Renting books great deal for parents but the cost is absorbed by the school.

f. Financial aid--giving out MORE financial aid, if aid is partial and if there are empty seats, is revenue, not expense. This is why airlines discount tickets. Look to standardize the process to avoid giving out too much. (EXAMPLE)

g. Look at issues of scheduling--this affects bottom line, often in hidden ways. Two examples:

Part-time teachers are cheaper than full-time because they're not eligible for benefits. Also, may be able to attract high quality faculty in a part-time capacity. But sometimes, our schedule makes part-time work unlikely. Take my alma mater, McGill. Ever since the days I attended there in the 1970's, they had a rotating schedule, whereby students went to 6 classes/day, but had 7 classes each semester, such that every day students didn't take one of their classes. SO on Monday, they may take classes 1-6, but not 7, on Tuesday 2-7, but not 1, on Wednesday 3 through 1, but not 2. Full time teachers loved this, because they never had the same class at the same time slot, but it was impossible for Bill Lee, the principal at that time, to hire someone like my father, a retired PhD in Physics who was willing to teach the AP Physics course if he could do so at a fixed time each day. Bill locked in first period and rotated the rest of the classes, which then allowed him to hire my dad, pay him no benefits (he didn't need benefits since he was drawing retirement).

At MCPS, we had a semester schedule with 6 periods/day. Teachers were teaching 5 periods, with one free period, for a total of 10 half credits/year. in 1998, we moved to a trimester schedule, where students take 5 periods/day, year is divided into 3 equal parts, first trimester ends around Veteran's Day, second ends around Feb 20, and third at usual time. Teacher teach 4 of those 5 periods, with the standard free period. Multiplied times 3 trimesters, that means our teachers now teach a total of 12 half-credits. We got 2 free half-credits per full time teacher at no extra cost to the school. It really helped us ramp up our elective offerings.

h. Raise prices, everywhere. We beat ourselves up for fund-raisers that raise a couple of $100 here and there, even while we have prices in things like concession stands that are far below market value....our parents, once leaving our campus, will pull into McDonald's or Burger King, and will gladly, willingly pay.