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The 21st Century Charter Schools Initiative

The 21st Century Charter Schools Initiative

Figure Out

Figure Out The Finances As a charter school you have received the great gift of autonomy over curriculum, program, and governance. You also have the gift of autonomy over the finances for your school. Now it is your responsibility to establish fiscal policies and procedures that are consistent with State law, and sound organizational practices. The number one reason charter schools close is because of fiscal mismanagement. Don’t let your school fall prey to this weakness! The Board of Trustees is responsible for management of the school. This includes developing and adopting fiscal policies and procedures. Budget To get off to a strong start you will need to create a budget. Based on the per- pupil allotment, design your budget around the core values of your mission and vision. Most authorizers will require a boardapproved budget proposal for the first year of operation. In addition, create a long-range budget plan for the first three years of operation. Most importantly for a start up school, create a detailed cash-flow projection for the first year of operation and continue this practice in subsequent years. These budgets and projections are reviewed and approved by the Board of Trustees at the annual meeting and modified as necessary. Tip: Include your principal and a teacher on the finance committee. Ask the principal, “What do you need in order for our vision and mission to be realized?” Then design your budget so it ensures that your faculty can achieve the goals you have set. If that means committing a large sum of money to professional development, now is the time to do it. 9

Facilities Facilities may be one of the areas where charter applicants and operators can best test their ability to be creative, flexible and visionary. Ideally, one would look for a facility in a convenient and central location, with a healthy physical plant suitable for or readily and cheaply adaptable to the most conducive classroom setting, and available and affordable. Such is rarely the case. Rather, charter school operators have had to improvise and compromise in securing a location for their school. Some “borrow” or share available facilities with another organization. Others convert unused retail space in strip malls. Some are fortunate to have access to available district facilities already designed on a classroom model. One charter rented space in a local restaurant, clearing out the “classrooms” every Friday so it could conduct its weekend business. Another provides its students’ physical education classes at the local Y. Yet another contracts with a local restaurant to provide its students with their daily lunch. Another rents out a church basement for the annual fee of $1. Facilities offer one more area in which to involve the community and call on local organizations to contribute to the education of the next generation. Enlist the expertise of realtors, architects, businesses, etc. in efforts to find and prepare a facility for opening day. Approach organizations to donate or lease their available facilities. Consider making use of spaces that are in use but vacant during the school day. “Borrow” community resources already available nearby, rather than providing them directly. Facilities present many charter applicants with a difficult dilemma: some sponsors make approval contingent on the applicant’s having already secured an appropriate site, yet applicants can’t enter into a lease agreement unless they have the approved charter in hand. Again, flexibility and creativity are required — applicants may try to secure a provisional agreement with the landlord or a waiver from the sponsor. Charter school funding has always been a hotbed of discussion. Check out CER’s report Solving the Charter School Funding Gap: The Seven Major Causes and What to Do About Them at www.edreform.com. 10

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