In this month's article, our Senior Consultant Rhonda Norris encourages school leadership to take stock of how the school year is progressing. In particular, to check you have all the resources you need to meet your core objectives and ensure your school's success.
As educational organizations, we are continuously assessing our progress, whether it is on learning for students or how effectively we are using our resources. At this time of year, well into the first quarter of the school year, it is timely to reflect upon how things are going financially, particularly as it relates to our funding of our core learning and our priorities that support our Mission and Vision. Involving your school's leadership team in this assessment can be quite valuable to gain the most accurate insights as well as to ensure everyone is on board for any revisions or adjustments that might need to be made for the current school year.
One of the first areas of assessment should be how we are doing with our current year student enrollment which gives us insights on our projected revenue and major expenses as compared to budget. In terms of this analysis, some areas to consider:
Are there any students who are still expected to arrive during the first quarter or semester? Admissions teams can connect with those in your community to gain a better understanding of how the transition in and out of the students this school year might impact budget?
Does the allocation of students by grade level align with the original budget projections, ie..are there more students at lower or higher tuition can impact your revenue?
Did your school need to hire the teachers that were budgeted (ie..more or less in number or change in distribution between local and overseas hired)? Analyze the currently hired staff and determine whether this will positively or negatively impact budget.
A review of what operating and capital expenses could or should be adjusted, up or down, based on current enrollment projections and/or other priorities that have shifted would be beneficial. It is valuable to involve the leadership team in these conversations to provide the best information and opportunities for success.
Are there projects or priorities that could or should be adjusted based on current projections of enrollment and revenue or other changes in your environment?
What impact does current enrollment have on allocations for core educational needs, innovation, and/or strategic priorities that ensure delivery on your Mission and progress on your Vision?
What is your reserve balance? Can or should any of these funds be utilized given your current financial situation? Ensure whatever reserves need to be used are replenished and strategically consider whether any excess resources due to higher enrollment can be used for deferred priorities.
This analysis and assessment will highlight how the current situation compares to what was included in the original budget based on what you knew last spring when the budget was set and provide insights on what could be recommended and/or considered differently now?
The timing of this assessment in October allows for possible adjustments for the remainder of the school year, if necessary or possible. Ideally, this assessment would utilize ongoing comparative spreadsheets that capture the key information and data to be monitored, analyzed, and reported throughout the year. This data and the related assessments will also be beneficial when you begin to consider and prepare the next year's budget. Your Admissions, Business Office, and leadership teams are essential support to this process depending upon what data you have determined will be most valuable to leadership, the Finance Commitee, and the Board for assessing progress. Any proposed adjustments or revisions to the budget should be recommended by leadership to the Finance Committee and then this Committee would make recommendations for Board consideration and approval, preferably around the October Board meeting allowing timely and successful follow through and implementation for the current school year.
As you assess progress and consider adjustments, ensure you review how the allocation of resources is supporting priorities, i.e... core student learning, safety, and previously identified priorities, given current enrollment and safety. Since staffing can be one of the largest areas of expense in your budget, the analysis of budgeted staffing costs compared to actual will be essential. From this analysis, identify which areas, if any, need to be considered for adjustment in relation to the actual current situation and the annual goals your school has set for learning, operations, and capital projects based on potential changes in funding. An adjustment could require a reduction in allocated resources if enrollment is down or could provide for additional resources to support more in the areas of strategic, Mission, or Vision priorities if enrollment is beyond budget. Knowing how your funding compares to budget will help ensure support for your school's priorities as any adjustments are made.
While financial resource allocation and analyzing progress might seem technical and a "behind the scenes" process that is not necessarily widely shared in the community, it can be beneficial to share and celebrate within the community on how resources are supporting learning successes and priorities. For example, alongside highlighting success in core areas of learning, share how resources have supported innovative educational program, ie..experiential learning, AI, as well as how resources are supporting necessary capital projects that support learning. Build awareness within our communities of how the financial resources that parents and companies are paying successfully support learning through student learning stories to encourage greater connection and interest within the community.
Ultimately, in analyzing our progress within the first quarter, we should ensure that core funding based on previously defined priorities is not jeopardized, particularly if the assessment indicates reductions in financial resource allocations are needed. Balancing between the needs for core learning, operational and capital needs as well innovation, strategic priorities, Mission, and Vision funding is key to the integrity and quality of our schools. Creating this balance will ensure a greater likelihood that we will direct our resources appropriately and achieve our school’s Mission while making progress toward the school’s Vision.
SAGE consultants are experienced school administrators with expertise in school leadership, finance and operations. We conduct school reviews and recommend actions and strategies to improve the financial and operating practices to ensure the long-term financial success of schools.