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  • Writer's pictureDiane Stone

Don't waste a good opportunity

In the world of education, the words Delta and Lambda usually conjure images of eager university freshmen and the Greek system of fraternities and sororities. Unfortunately, in the world of K-12 schooling these Greek letters have now come to represent the highly contagious variants of the COVID-19 virus that continues to impact our school operations and budgets. As schools around the globe enter into the third school year impacted by the global pandemic, we have learned to adapt to rapidly changing terrain that has included school closures, program contraction, rigorous cleaning protocols, pivoting to and from in-person, synchronous and asynchronous instruction all under the veil of evolving government interventions.

As school operations and finance professionals, many of us pride ourselves on our policies and procedures, budget protocols and financial reporting. We maintain dashboards, flowcharts and risk registers all designed to ensure the long and short term sustainability and financial health of the schools in which we serve.

Our policies, procedures and systems of internal controls are designed to prevent or detect errors or misstatements and we thrive in efficient and effective high functioning environments. In short, we have a playbook.

However, what happens when that playbook is missing a chapter? Even the most robust crisis management plans could not anticipate the rapid and pervasive impact that the March 11, 2020 World Health Organization pandemic declaration would have on the business operations of our schools.

Senior school administrators and board members at international schools had to make decisions regarding human resources, budgets and operating policies and procedures in the face of a probable economic crisis and the accompanying enrolment risks and ability for families to continue paying tuition.

The pandemic also introduced doubt in the value proposition of international schools where families questioned paying the same tuition for such a different product, where so many of the educational experiences both in and out of the classroom were cancelled or curtailed. To make matters worse this value proposition came at a time when many costs were escalating.

Nevertheless, as we begin to reflect on our operational and budgetary response to the pandemic, we can see that there could quite possibly be a silver lining to all the challenges that we have faced. The first was streamlining our operations to mission. As Jeff Shields, President and CEO of the National Business Officers Association, noted, “ As a community, we are great at adding services to better serve our families. After all, that's what we're in the business of doing. But it's very difficult to withdraw or sunset services even though they are not effectively supporting our educational mission.”

The pandemic allowed school leaders to take a healthy look at both programs and human resources positions and sunset those that were no longer on point with our missions.

The second was simply cost containment. The cyclical nature of expenditures in schools can make it difficult to challenge the status quo. The disruption of the pandemic will allow school leaders to challenge expenditures and the interruption in programs will allow educators and operational leaders alike to revisit how funds are expended. For example, the travel bans have pivoted how and where professional development occurs and online learning has continued with a lower carbon footprint, less classroom interruptions and without the need for costly travel.

The pandemic also unearthed overhead costs that could be reduced, allowing redeployment of funds for greater impact on student learning.

The SAGE Consultancy offers a comprehensive School Finance and Operations Health Check, where we partner with you in a comprehensive review of your operations relative to established best practice standards. Our group of consultants has over 80 years of collective experience in finance, human resources and facilities management in K-12 independent schools around the globe. We have developed audit and review plans to assess the operations of schools with the aim to provide a report card, gap analysis and advice on best practices. If you would like to discuss this opportunity further please contact us.

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