Updated: Jul 6
Happy Summer and Welcome to the best time for school Heads and Board members to gain
perspective on school goals, upcoming year budgetary issues, and longer-term strategy. In this edition of “Reflections” our Lead Consultant, Dexter Morse and his colleagues Bill Toomey and Harry Lynch offer their thoughts on how you can prepare yourself and your school fo future success!
Heads’ Goals by Dexter Morse
The summer months are a great time for heads of school to study the board's evaluation of your work the past 10 months and to set your goals for the coming year.
VisM strongly recommends that school boards create a Head's Support and Evaluation Committee (HSEC).
The HSEC is responsible for the annual evaluation of the HOS, which should be done every spring. The annual evaluation should serve as an important resource in the head's planning and goal setting for the upcoming school year. A second important resource for the head's summer planning should be input from the head's administrative staff. The last administrative leadership team meeting of the school year should focus on setting the goals and direction for the next school year. Confident school heads should ask their leadership team for their evaluation of his/her performance over the past year and also, ask for their input in the building of the new head's goals.
A meeting of the HSEC should be scheduled with the Head before the next school year begins. The agenda for this meeting is to discuss the head's new goals and to iron out action plans and strategies. Once the head's goals for the next school year are agreed on with the HSEC, the final step is to have them approved in the first fall meeting of the full-board.
Upcoming Fiscal Year Planning by Bill Toomey
As schools approach their summer season and it appears that the income side of the budget might be in jeopardy, it's time to get creative!
Budgets created in mid Winter and early Spring include estimates for enrollment and annual giving. These estimates are based on recent history and current trends.
Admission and Development offices have been given their sailing orders and have been hard at work for months. But if the economy has put a strain on usual donors and families, particular thought should be given to new and creative ways to raise money.
Perhaps the first Annual Auction could be planned with an emphasis on funds for financial aid, or some other compelling operating need.
If enrollment is an issue, and the school has empty seats and qualified candidates on the financial aid wait list, looking at net tuition opportunities is a must. Do not stop admitting students because the financial budget is exhausted. Net tuition revenue is the budget goal, and staying within the financial aid budget is not. If you can fill the seats with qualified kids by overspending financial aid you have the opportunity to net enough to make your budget.
Creative budgeting can be key to fiscal year planning and pivoting based on your current financial situation is a must.
Financial Crisis Planning by Harry Lynch
Over the years I have had an odd curiosity, namely, how did individuals, businesses, and
schools survive during the Great Depression? One of my great-grandfathers was a farmer in Kingston NY. As a high school student in the 1930s, my mother would visit the farm for a few weeks each summer. She would recall for us her grandfather sitting on his porch rocker, with a notebook on his lap. As he would pay off his creditors, he would cross them off the list he kept in the book of people to whom he owed money. I thought this was an interesting story. Obviously his suppliers trusted him to eventually pay them back, and in fact he kept his promises, despite the fact that it was difficult for him. To me, it was a story of community and values and my great-grandfather’s persistence in the face of adversity.
And yet one of my grandfathers, having started a business in Boston during the 1920s, lost it to bankruptcy during the 1930s. In 1945, Newman Prep, where I worked for thirty-five years, bought buildings on Marlborough Street. There was a school there before World War II, Marlborough Street School—we found the accounting records in an old safe they left behind. Marlborough Street School was a secretarial school during the 1910s through the 1930s, when it closed its doors. It was impossible to determine what, exactly, caused that school to fail, and yet the fact of their demise was often on my mind. Our Art Room was their science lab. There were disconnected gas feeds in a closet next to the classroom, and an old air venting system—if we hit the related electrical switch, the fans would still spring to life. I could guess what happened, but no one knew…they are all gone.
Recent financial news renewed my interest in this subject. A Google search led me to an interesting Ed. D. dissertation presented at Western Michigan University in 1989 by J. Michael Hostetler, Ed. D., partially entitled “Impact (of the Depression) on Private Higher Education.” Hostetler studied three private colleges and their response to the 1930s economic crisis, Notre Dame, Valparaiso, and Goshen College. I found it interesting that he identified important common themes that, overall, contributed to their success relative to many peer institutions
In hindsight, a general under-reaction to the stock market crash of 1929 on the part of all three schools. It was not until 1932 that the schools’ board minutes reflect active recognition of the crisis and proactive planning.
All three schools addressed fund-raising and admissions with increased professionalism, moving to publicize their programs, increase contact with alumni and business leaders, and staff offices to carry out specific action steps. Despite budgetary challenges presented by falling enrollment and increased attrition, admissions and fund-raising efforts were supported with investment in materials and staffing.
These institutions chose to emphasize quality of their academic programs, and resisted the temptation to reduce admissions standards.
Creative modifications of programs were important to the success of these institutions during these challenging years. Gone were the fun-loving student bodies of the Roaring Twenties! The students of this era expected attention to career preparedness during their college years and took their studies with greater seriousness than their predecessors. These schools shaped their programs accordingly.
Each of the schools actively built upon their pre-existing religious affiliations, Notre Dame with the national Catholic community, Valparaiso with the Lutheran community, and Goshen with members of the Mennonite faith. Despite push-back from some reactionary or conservative critics, these schools invested in the professionalism of faculties.
Finally, the schools all practiced necessary frugality. At Goshen, finances were so tight that salaries could not be paid. Therefore a collective salary account was created for all employees, which could be drawn upon on a good-faith basis. Valparaiso and Notre Dame, being larger institutions, did not have to go to such extremes, however it was common to have administrators teach courses and faculty assume additional burdens in order to meet strained budgets without decimating student programs. Both faculty and staff adopted an “all hands on deck” approach to battle the storm.
Dr. Hostetler’s dissertation makes interesting reading these days, as the stock markets go down, and commentators argue about how long this can last. A friend sent me a financial newsletter which confidently layed out statistical evidence for an argument that the market would begin a sustained rally starting in October 2022. Shortly after reading that relatively optimistic news, I heard another commentator observe that bear markets last three years, and that we are now only six months into this one. We cannot know which is correct. However we can learn from the experience of these schools that survived the 1930s era. No doubt their boards wished in 1932 that they had begun to implement emergency planning in 1929, and not waited for the “benefits” of hindsight.
NOW is the time to plan for deep challenges, and hope for good news. But hope is not a plan! Start the process now of preparing your school community for challenges that may well arise in the coming months and years. Your entire school community will appreciate your foresight, and if indeed storm flags start flying, faculty, administration, students and parents will have confidence in your leadership!
We at VisM enjoy writing our timely newsletters to heads of school and board members. The three officers of VisM, collectively, have over 110 years of independent school leadership experience and we would love to work with any of you. Our fees are very affordable.
For information about how we can help your Board or your school leadership, contact Dexter Morse firstname.lastname@example.org