As for me, I thought that I had broken the mold with a life in academics. But family history has a way of catching up with you!
A number of years ago when I was being interviewed to become the Head of my previous school in Bermuda, a teacher on the interview team asked whether I looked at the school as “a learning community” or as a “business”. The answer was, and is, simple. Independent schools, like ours, are wonderful learning communities. However, they cannot provide a long-term sustainable, positive and productive learning environment for the students in their care unless they are led and managed like a business. The two are not mutually exclusive or even in conflict. They are just the two key dimensions of any successful school.
It is the Head’s job, in partnership with the staff to deliver the best possible educational experience for each and every child. It is the Board of Governors’ job, in partnership with the Head, to ensure that whatever we undertake is financially sustainable in the long-term.
In the case of a school like KGMS, this is no mean feat! Without the large endowments and long list of wealthy alumni that characterize many other independent schools, we have to operate pretty much on a “pay as you go” cash basis. The result is that we have to be creative and frugal at the same time.
Each spring we let parents know how deeply they are going to have to dig into their pockets to pay for next year. Although paying for schooling for a child is a bit of an act of faith, it is also critically important that parents know where their valuable dollars are going.
To begin with, it is essential for them to understand the costs of schooling at a school like ours. With a staff/student ratio of 1:3, our projected per pupil expenditure for next year will be about $28,000. By comparison, our tuition fees will continue to be the same as this year, just under $20,000 per student. We endeavour to be lean (but never mean!) in our operations, keeping our overhead as low as possible. But given that tuition doesn’t cover all of our expenses, where does the additional revenue come from? Well, to begin with, the Ministry gives us significant support – an average of about $7,500 per student. This gets us 95% of the way! We have other “hard” income as well through rentals, student material charges, and outreach services. These "revenue centres" bring us up to our required operating funds and allow us a small surplus for contingency. In addition, we generate about $200,000 per year in "soft" revenue. This is made up of donation income from our Gala, parent council fundraising and personal and corporate donations. It is these generous contributions which enable us to provide almost $150,000 in bursary support each year and allow us to continuously upgrade technology and acquire additional new resources.
Where does all of this money go? Well, needless to say, education is a “people” business. Consequently about 83% of our revenue goes to salaries and benefits, outside services and professional development. This means that we can offer competitive salaries and benefits and provide timely professional development and training to keep our staff current and on top of the latest trends and best practices in teaching and learning. Other major expenditures out of our budget include: renting the school building and grounds (8%); classroom supplies and resources (4%); transportation (3%); and general office/communications costs (2%).
For us, as a school, the real challenge is to maximize our services while minimizing our costs. We have a hard-working staff and a dedicated Board, but what really tips the balance is the amazing generosity of time and resources provided by our parent community. It would be a betrayal of their trust if we were to squander their financial and volunteer contributions through sloppy management of our finances.
School is a business. But it is a business based not on making money, but rather on a collaborative effort to provide a unique and meaningful learning experience for our students. What more profitable a business could you ever ask for!