Financial Viability: Actions to Take Today

three teachers in discussion

What is a school leader's primary function? Barry Giller, head of Charlotte Christian School (North Carolina), believes it's to bring hope and clarity in regard to financial sustainability. In the current issue of Christian School Education he writes about nine ways school leaders tend to jeopardize the goal of providing hope and clarity—and how to combat them. Here they are in brief.

  1. Vote on a tuition increase instead of a complete budget. The administration must start with an accurate enrollment prediction and the expenses needed to execute the school's mission to that number of students. Then the tuition can be calculated.
  2. Confuse affordability with accessibility. Within budget discussions, schools often become confused by the term affordable. A lower tuition does not necessarily make a school affordable. Our schools should be made accessible through a robust financial aid program.
  3. Artificially deflate tuition with hidden fees. Parents enroll with an incorrect idea of the tuition cost—but the real cost is revealed eight checks later. We need to communicate the true cost of the school to parents. This will create greater trust in the school's leadership and the budgeting process.
  4. Leave your strategic plan on the shelf. A well-designed, easy-to-read strategic plan is a school's GPS. At any time a constituent could ask for our plan and understand where we are presently and where we intend to go. My annual goals, and those of my team, come directly from the strategic plan. This provides hope and clarity to the school's leadership.
  5. Ignore the numbers. Schools should have an easy-to-read dashboard that reports on the key numbers for a school's health. The dashboard should tie directly into the school's strategic plan and include key data like enrollment and retention trends, cash reserve totals, and budget surplus/deficit.
  6. Ignore what great independent schools are doing. We all should be studying the most successful schools in our region. Too often, Christians look at something secular and refuse to believe there is anything redeemable. 
  7. Focus on participation and events (but never on money). A donor is most likely to invest significantly in an organization's mission because of a personal connection rather than a letter or large event. I can provide more hope and clarity in a conversation over a lunch table than any other setting. We never shy from asking for a gift because we believe in God's vision for our school.
  8. Be "the best-kept secret" or "the value school." We need to be proud of the great things happening on our campuses and tell anyone who will listen. We should not aim to be a value option for parents. We should want to be a premium option. 
  9. Focus on obstacles and dismiss Joshua and Caleb. My fear is that we Christian school leaders are too much like the ten and not enough like Joshua and Caleb. For our schools to thrive and remain sustainable for the generations to come, we must bring the hope and clarity of Joshua and Caleb, who returned from Canaan saying, "We are well able to overcome it." May the same be said for our schools and our leaders!

You can read the full version of Barry's article, "Things Leaders Should NOT Be Doing," in the latest issue of Christian School Education or read it online now!