Without assistance from bonds and local taxes, charter schools must rely on enrollment, foundations, and donations to subsidize their budgets. What’s often underutilized are cost control protocols and efficient operational processes that move funds from operations to the classroom. One facet of campus operations that can be readily evaluated for savings is document management. Clemson University’s recent analysis and overhaul of their managed document services resulted in an additional 2.5 million dollars in “new” revenue for the school.[i] Such a comprehensive analysis is simply not possible without the assistance and collaboration between Clemson and its document management provider. Therefore, the most important decision for administrators shouldn’t be which brand copier is better or cheapest. It’s about choosing a business partner willing to do the homework to ensure every solution implemented provides the best value for the school.
Improve efficiency and profits will follow, it’s a simple concept that requires constant self-analysis to ensure you’re maximizing the resources and assets within your control. Since joining Knight Office Solutions, I realized my best tools for new clients was my skillset as an entrepreneur, not a copier sales rep. Instead of “selling” the customer, I focus on “informing” the customer. The more a customer learns about the copier industry, the more appealing our business model becomes to them. Some of the methods used in this industry were designed to subvert accounting departments and fiscal budgets with “hidden fees” and “overage penalties.” Thus, making the already stringent audits even more challenging for administrators. KOS focuses on transparency and cost-savings. As a partner in a VAR IT company and working closely with tech directors of K-12s, I recalled most IT companies extended an “educational discount” either by the manufacturers or their distribution network. So you can imagine my shock and dismay, once I crunched the numbers and learned that public schools are being charged the same rates as some Fortune 500 companies. After a comprehensive evaluation on behalf of Wayside Schools, an additional $340,000 over the next 5 years of “new” revenue is now available for the school to address other important needs.
As a Solution Provider member of the Texas Charter Schools Association, we understand our responsibility and commitment to its school members. In the same way that each charter school serves the students of our community, our goal is to always serve each school with the same integrity, honesty, and excellence they deserve. So it’s with great pride and honor to add Wayside Schools to our growing list of valued-clients from the TCSA. Per Deroald Hopkins, COO of Wayside, they “have been assessing and re-evaluating our core business functions to better serve all our campuses operationally. How? By integrating more of our financial and operational processes and their related job functions. Through the implementation and execution of a change management process for our entire organization, we can focus on better internal controls, streamlined and efficient workflow procedures, and all with a customer-centric focus on staff and our scholars.” KOS was able to clearly understand Wayside’s vision and help them accomplish their goals of streamlining and finding a potential area of savings – copier machinery.
As George Ross, owner of KOS states, “Charter schools should partner with KOS due to the fact that we have a specialist that understands their requirements. Typically their requirements fit into our business model of excellent customer service. Having local decision-making capability, charter schools can count on KOS to maintain their systems and provide timely expectations for any need that comes up.”
KOS Austin began business 11 years ago when Mr. Ross became frustrated in how vendors were treating clients. Integrity and character are large keys to our 11 years of success in Austin. We want to build relationships with our customers, not just let them be a number in our system. As a local business, we can make quick decisions on issues that arise and adapt to clients’ changing needs so they can focus on their core businesses and duties. Much like charter schools, we understand and value adaptability.
Building a good, solid, durable piece of furniture requires attention to detail and a grasp of the intricacies involved. The same can be said for the process of purchasing furniture for a charter school, says Karen Volner, National Business Development Director, Furniture, for the State/Local Government & Education (SLED) area at Staples Business Advantage, the business-to-business division of the national office supply outlet. “A lot of it is common sense and being observant.”
Here in the second of two articles offering charter school decision-makers suggestions on furniture procurement (click here for Part 1), we focus on execution, with six more tips to help schools navigate the nuts-and-bolts practicalities and nuances of the actual purchasing process.
Interested in learning how Staples Business Advantage can help you furnish your school, classroom or cafeteria? Contact Shannon Bradford, Senior Manager, Vertical Markets – K12, Staples Business Advantage, at email@example.com or 336.207.5554.
Of all the items on a charter school’s lengthy procurement shopping list, furniture has to be among the simplest to purchase, right? After all, how much nuance could there be to buying chairs, desks, storage cabinets and the like?
Plenty, it turns out. “I would never say [school furniture procurement] is straightforward,” observes Shannon Bradford, Senior Manager, Vertical Markets – K12, for Staples Business Advantage, the business-to-business division of the national office supply outlet. “There are so many things a school needs to consider when they are purchasing furniture.”
As complex and high-dollar as furniture purchases can be, there’s ample opportunity for charter school procurement decision-makers to uncover hidden value and make their dollars go further, but also the potential for them to leave money on the table, and to leave their students and staff with substandard equipment.
In the first of a two-part series, BuyQ speaks with experts from the world of school furniture procurement to uncover their suggestions on how charter schools can succeed with their furniture buys, year in and year out. Part 1 focuses on fundamental strategic considerations to lay the groundwork for smart furniture purchasing. In Part 2, we’ll focus on the practicalities of the actual purchasing process.
Interested in learning how Staples Business Advantage can help you furnish your school, classroom or cafeteria? Contact Shannon Bradford, Senior Manager, Vertical Markets – K12, Staples Business Advantage, at firstname.lastname@example.org or 336.207.5554.
Have you thought about the steps you’ll take between now and April to improve student performance? Specialized instruction and tutoring is a great way to give students the tools they’ll need to shine at the end of this school year.
Proximity Learning is one of TCSA’s newest Elite Providers offering a suite of online learning options, including affordable, convenient tutoring with certified instructors dedicated to specific subject areas.
“Our partnership with Proximity Learning allows us to expand and benefit Greenville Public Schools with a highly qualified team of experienced educators without any issues or impact to our system’s existing educational programs and current facility.” – Dr. Leeson Taylor, Former Superintendents of Greenville Public School District, MS.
Proximity offers district-wide packages for one-on-one or group tutoring sessions in 30- or 60-minute increments. Tutors are available before, during and after school. If your district isn’t ready to commit to a package, families have the option of purchasing their own tutoring sessions in a variety of subject areas.
Studies have shown that in a student’s years between kindergarten and their senior year, he or she will spend the equivalent of one school year’s time with a substitute teacher. School administrators use a lot of energy and lose a lot of time in the recruitment, hiring, training, payrolling, and scheduling of substitute teachers.
These activities can be even more challenging for charter schools because some are not located in large residential areas and face tougher challenges in recruiting and retaining valued substitutes.
Outsourcing substitutes is becoming a much more widespread practice among schools for the advantages it offers schools and substitutes such as weekly payroll, call centers, training, workman’s compensation, affordable care act, and time spent on these activities.
SubTeachUSA and ESS Company collaborates with TCSA as an Elite Provider of substitute outsourcing and has over fifteen years of experience in the placement of quality substitutes in the classroom.
“I am still very pleased with the level of customer service I receive from SubTeach. I have communication with them on at least a weekly basis and any other time it is needed. The sub pool is continuing to grow and the fill rates have steadily improved from last year.”
Ryan Harris, Executive Director of Human Resources
Faith Family Academy, Dallas TX
One of its co-owners is a former substitute teacher who wanted to broaden opportunities for people like her that needed a flexible schedule to attend to her own children. One of its leadership team is a retired principal whose district was the first to use SubTeach and continues with them today.
In 2018, it’s expected that nationally the demand for and expansion of charter schools will grow, but the challenges of funding such endeavors will likely also increase. Despite a promising budget from the current administration to increase funding for charter schools, there are strong opponents in local government and traditional ISDs that view charter schools as competition for education dollars. Demand for equipment to drive learning in the charter classroom could go unmet if schools have trouble partnering with companies to make technology acquisition more affordable.
Revive IT, a computer refurbisher, believes that their commitment to community revitalization includes charter schools. Seeing a technology gap in charter schools that struggle with funding, they know their business model to refurbish computer equipment for resale is a perfect fit for charters balancing tight budgets with the need to educate and expose students to technology. To date, Revive IT has partnered with nearly 50 districts throughout the country. Many of these schools serve vulnerable communities, so the impact of these relationships goes far beyond technology.
“Our school...has 80 - 85 percent (of students) that are at free or reduced lunch,” said Jesus Armenta, Principal at New World Educational Center in Phoenix. “Many students don’t have access to a computer at home.” Revive IT proposed creative solutions to make the purchase of refurbished equipment a reality at New World.
“They really are seeing school not just necessarily as the place where they come and learn, but that learning can happen anywhere. There’s definitely magic happening,” agreed Lisa Smith, STEM teacher at New World.
Data suggests that such partnerships are crucial to student success. Studies released on personalized learning (PL) in the classroom, particularly in schools that use technology to deliver it, are promising. In particular, a report from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the RAND Corporation found students do better on computer-based reading and math assessments in schools that use PL approaches. So, partnerships that allow for more cost-effective technology to be placed in students’ hands not only satisfies budgetary concerns, it creates a lasting legacy as each student advances in their education.
“We see that big ripple effect - it’s affecting our future. Revive IT is making an impact more than they know,” agreed Armenta.
“Our vision as a company is in part to be responsible to our community,” said Revive IT CEO Chris Ko. “In these school partnerships, we are not only equipping them with technology, we are also equipping each student with critical tools to compete, succeed and thrive in their communities, and the workplace.”
Most traditional teacher support organizations are anti-school choice – are your staff’s paychecks going to one of these organizations? Working at a charter school comes with its own set of unique challenges. Staff work long hours and are selfless in their pursuit of supporting their charter’s mission, but what if they belong to an organization that seeks to stifle the charter movement? Let us offer a better choice.
“I want my teachers to be a part of a professional educators association but finding one that advocates and supports charter schools is not easy. AAE provides the professional benefits we care about as educators in addition to advocating on behalf of all public school teachers including those who choose to serve in a charter school.”
Brighten Academy Charter School
One of the best things you can do to support your staff is help them advocate for themselves and the charter sector. TCSA collaborates with The Association of American Educators (AAE) to support educators working in our charter schools. AAE is the largest national, non-union, professional educator’s organization that supports school choice and legislation that paves the way for new and innovative learning environments, including charters and virtual schools.
“We all know teachers and school personnel aren’t paid what they are worth. So it is even more important to offer them opportunities to be financially responsible and proactive. They are building the future every day, so partnering with AAE just makes sense to help your staff prepare for that future. They should be able to enjoy it!”
Michelle Holland – Elementary Principal
Leadership Prep School Frisco
AAE provides professional benefits and services to its members such as liability insurance, professional development opportunities, supplementary insurance, and classroom grants. A number of Texas charter school educators are members of AAE, including Anita Collins, who received a classroom grant in 2017.
“I joined AAE because I wanted to build relationships and network with other educators around the country, gain knowledge on the latest trends and issues impacting education, and to receive the excellent insurance benefits it provides.”
Anita E. Collins - Teacher
Life Oak Cliff Secondary
AAE offers school-wide training and advocacy resources for your staff. Have you seen their Teachers as Charter School Advocates toolkit? Keep your staff energized and engaged – let them be a part of the grassroots effort to advocate for Texas charter schools while building a culture of leadership at your campuses.
In the fall 2017, the Texas Charter Schools Association (TCSA) began a partnership with Proximity Learning, LLC. to help our member charter schools find innovative staffing and curriculum solutions.
Proximity Learning, a Texas-based, fully accredited K-12 online education solution, offers schools more flexibility when it comes to course offerings, special education (SPED) services and staffing needs. Districts across the nation are using Proximity Learning to meet their needs through a variety of delivery methods. Spring Branch ISD and Garland ISD have both found success with Proximity Learning’s catalog of courses and virtual teachers.
Is your network growing?
Do you have a difficult time recruiting and retaining highly qualified staff for your students?
Are your families requesting more course offerings such as Mandarin, Latin or AP courses?
Proximity Learning may be the solution for you. TCSA is particularly excited about Proximity Learning’s synchronous (live) system for instruction: students receive instruction from live, highly-qualified and state certified teachers streamed straight into the classroom via a webcam. Teachers can be part-time or full-time, giving administrators the flexibility of choosing only the classes they need. Utilizing the live teacher option, Proximity Learning works one-on-one with each school to fully align with their bell schedule, parent teacher conferences, grading expectations and curriculum adoption – your normal operations won’t be interrupted. Additionally, Proximity Learning can take the curriculum from a district for any subject and develop and teach the course virtually using a state accredited instructor.
Is your SPED program understaffed? Proximity Learning can meet your SPED needs. We know that finding long-term SPED-certified staff is especially difficult. Proximity Learning’s full suite of special education services includes assessment, direct instruction, indirect instruction and administration to alleviate the burden on schools.
In addition to live instruction, Proximity Learning has a suite of self-paced online courses for 6th-12th grade students, including AP courses.
Proximity Learning’s suite of services includes:
If you anticipate semester- or year-long teacher vacancies, want to expand course offerings or need to bulk up your SPED support, Proximity Learning should be considered as a viable and innovative solution for your school.
The Texas Charter Schools Association’s newest partner is Revive IT, a hardware, software and managed solutions provider specializing in affordable, streamlined IT solutions for schools using new or professionally refurbished equipment. Revive IT offers everything from consultation to equipment installation, and because their sister firm, ER2, has relationships with Fortune 1,000 companies for asset disposal, they can source high quality equipment easily for charter schools.
Revive IT services include:
Headquartered in Mesa, AZ, Revive IT realized early on how their commitment to community would include public charter schools. Their business model to refurbish computer equipment for resale is a perfect fit for public charter schools balancing tight budgets with the need to educate and expose students to technology in the classroom. With the ability to provide both new and refurbished products, Revive IT is able to meet the needs of new and established charters. To date, Revive IT has partnered with nearly 50 schools and districts throughout the country. Many of these schools serve vulnerable communities, so the impact of these relationships goes far beyond technology.
In particular, a partnership with New World Educational Center in Phoenix brought technology into their classrooms, and eventually Revive IT equipped them with a full computer lab using affordable enterprise-grade technology.
“Our school is considered a low socio-economic school; we have 80-85 percent that are at free or reduced lunch,” said Jesus Armenta, Principal at New World. “Many students don’t have access to a computer at home. I’ve always believed that kids - all kids, regardless of who they are - can learn. We see that big ripple effect - it’s affecting our future. Revive IT is making an impact more than they know.”
Understanding fiscal concerns, Revive IT offers creative solutions tailored to each school’s needs. “Our vision as a company is in part to be responsible to our community,” said CEO Chris Ko. “In these school partnerships, we are not only equipping them with technology, we are also equipping each student with critical tools to compete, succeed and thrive in their communities, and the workplace.”
If you are a new charter on a tight budget, or are a growing charter looking to scale, Revive IT can manage your school’s IT infrastructure affordably. Please contact Erin Tholen to discuss how Revive IT is the right solution for your school.
In the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, we know many impacted open-enrollment charter school operators are left with questions about how to repair the damage and how to serve students displaced by the storm. Among several resources, the Texas Education Agency (TEA) has provided guidance on emergency procurement under Texas Education Code (TEC) Chapter 44 Subchapter B, non-competitive procurement during an emergency, and the impact on federal grant funds. All Hurricane Harvey resources provided by the TEA are available here for your review. TEA issued procurement guidance specific to Hurricane Harvey here.
It is important to review these materials, and reach out to legal counsel, your local designated Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) official, and/or TEA if you have any questions or identify any conflicts because even where any applicable state law procurement requirements have been suspended under an emergency procurement exception, federal procurement requirements still exist where you will spend or seek reimbursement with federal funds. FEMA may also have its own interpretation of the regulations and has its own authority to issue waivers or approvals that TEA does not have. When using TEA “federal” money, however, follow TEA guidance.
Federal Grant and Title Funds Overseen by TEA
As noted in TEA guidance, the Education Department General Administrative Regulations (EDGAR) requires grant recipients who use federal grant funds to procure property and services to follow general procurement standards (2 CFR §200.318). Federal grant recipients must select the procurement method most appropriate under the circumstances from the following available methods:
5.Non-competitive proposals (also commonly thought of as ‘sole source’)
Non-competitive procurement may be used when a public exigency or emergency will not allow for a delay in services, caused by the competitive solicitation process. In the event of an emergency, such as Hurricane Harvey, a grant recipient may choose to solicit a non-competitive proposal from only one source to avoid delay in procuring items or services (2 CFR § 200.320(f)(2)). When using the non-competitive procurement method, all costs must still be allowable under the specific program. TEA provided the following example:
An Local Education Agency (LEA) that received damage from Hurricane Harvey may need to quickly replace or acquire materials or services that were damaged, destroyed, or lost in the storms. Also, an LEA receiving a number of evacuated students may need to choose the non-competitive procurement option to more quickly procure needed items or services to be able to serve the unexpected growth in enrollment numbers.
While LEAs that determine a need for non-competitive procurement are not required to obtain prior approval from TEA, TEA has provided forms that are available online for LEAs that prefer to obtain prior approval as documentation for auditors
The Request for Prior Approval Forms includes instructions for completing and submitting the appropriate form. Please note:
Local documentation on how the determination for the need for non-competitive procurement was made is kept locally.
Federal Funds Managed and Overseen by FEMA
With respect to the interaction between procurement rules under EDGAR and rules for reimbursement from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (“FEMA”), TEA guidance clarifies that an LEA affected by Hurricane Harvey may use the non-competitive procurement method allowed by EDGAR to obtain goods and services quickly, as long as the LEA does not intend to submit the same expenditures to FEMA for reimbursement. If the expenditure is intended to be submitted to FEMA, presently or at a later date, then the LEA must follow the FEMA procurement rules. TEA guidance also makes clear that an LEA should not use federal grant funds (from TEA or Department of Education) to pay for services or activities with an intention of requesting FEMA reimbursement later. Any FEMA reimbursements/grant charges must be net “any amounts received from the Federal government to finance activities or service operations of the non-federal entity” under 2 CFR §200.406(b). The guidance notes that:
If an LEA is later reimbursed by FEMA for expenses that were charged to a federal grant, the LEA must ensure that the charges are treated as applicable credits as specified in EDGAR. To the extent that such credits received by the LEA relate to allowable costs, they must be credited to the federal grant either as a cost reduction or cash refund, as appropriate (2 CFR §200.406).
The full Guidance and FAQ from the TEA’s Department of Grants Compliance and Oversight is available at the link provided above for TEA resources in the section entitled “Federal Grants Information.”
While FEMA has adopted the same federal regulations for procurement as referenced by TEA, please know that FEMA has its own oversight, interpretation and requirements that are not necessarily the same or aligned with TEA. When using or seeking reimbursement form FEMA managed or allocated federal funds, your school must comply with FEMA regulations and guidance in order to avoid costs being questioned, disallowed or denied.
FEMA and the State have the following links to additional resources for procurement or reimbursement with FEMA monies:
•FEMA Procurement Guidance (June 21, 2016)
We are available should you have any questions or concerns about the procurement process, and we encourage you to review the full set of guidance resources available if you plan to procure any goods or services for emergency needs created by Hurricane Harvey.