From the November/December 2017 Net Assets magazine
Presenting the faculty perspective: "When the business officer came to my classroom to discuss adding one or two more students, I felt like she didn’t respect what I do every day.”
The speaker was an independent school teacher who in this context was a student in an online professional development course I teach for NBOA called “Essentials of School Business for Non-Business Administrators: Budget Meets Mission.” This course is designed to help heads of school, administrators and academic leaders understand the basic principles of the independent school business model as well as the challenges this model presents.
The teacher then added: “Now that I have a better understanding of net tuition revenue and the impact that one or two more students per section can have on my school’s financial health, it has made all the difference.”
This statement surprised me on two levels.
First, we need to do a better job of making sure that every faculty member knows — regardless of the financial pressures we face in the business office — that we understand and appreciate that they deliver the mission of our schools, on the front lines, every day. Independent schools will not achieve financial sustainability by drawing down on the essential resources our faculty represent. Paramount components of every school’s future financial success include investments in competitive compensation, high-quality benefit programs, professional development and ongoing dialogue to identify means of delivering education more efficiently and effectively.
As an independent school parent, how would you like to see financial information presented in a way that helps you feel good about tuition payments and fundraising requests?
Many schools attach tuition increases to the rising costs of services and maintaining competitive compensation. But I also think it’s important to tie tuition increases to tangible areas of the school that parents value, so they can see the direct benefits of their investment. This is easier with construction than program offerings, but I believe it’s important for parents to understand how their financial support impacts the school’s mission and its progress in a variety of areas.
You have also been an independent school trustee. How could business officers better present financial information to trustees?
Give trustees what they need to know, not everything you know. I think it’s easy to provide a lot of data without thinking about the story you’re trying to tell. Transparency doesn’t mean every budget detail. If you want trustees to operate at a strategic level, make sure the financial data you share is at the same altitude. And since numbers may not tell them the whole story, develop a narrative and use charts, graphs and infographics. I think this approach supports less emphasis on reporting and more on generative discussions about the school’s financial position.
Second, we must help every member of the school community — administrators, trustees, parents, faculty and other staff — understand the key revenue and expense drivers of the school’s business model. While these factors may be complex in many ways, they’re not complicated. Perhaps we don’t communicate clearly or often enough, or we don’t believe anyone else is truly interested in the “business” of our schools. However, it’s apparent that when we provide our colleagues with financial information in a way that they can understand (not tiny type on spreadsheets), we can strengthen our working relationships and make a profound difference in our schools.
Four Things I Want You to Know About Your School’s Participation in BIIS
When Will Your Families Hit a “Tuition Ceiling”?
3 Habits of Innovative K-12 Business Officers
For these and other reasons, I believe this issue of Net Assets is particularly relevant. It makes the case for focusing on the key metric of net tuition revenue with laser-light attention, replacing financial clutter with the dollars and cents that truly matter. I encourage you to bring this issue of the magazine into your administrative and academic leadership meetings and to discuss your school’s net tuition revenue: where it is, how it’s been trending and, most importantly, how to work collaboratively to ensure that your school has the resources it needs to deliver world-class education and live its mission for decades to come. In the current economic environment, we all must engage in these critical conversations together.
Follow NBOA President and CEO Jeff Shields @shieldsNBOA.
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