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. 

  1. Order early in the buying cycle to ensure timely delivery. It’s every school’s worst nightmare: Students and staff show up for the first day of school to find classrooms missing critical pieces of furniture because they’re on back-order. Dodge that scenario by placing orders before the purchasing season glut inundates manufacturers, suggests Shannon Bradford, Senior Manager, Vertical Markets – K12, for Staples Business Advantage. “The earlier they can get orders in, the better.”That means initiating conversations with vendors in the fall, explains Sydney Bear, a school furniture-focused account consultant for Staples Business Advantage in Colorado, then deepening those conversations early in the new year, and placing orders during the first quarter of the calendar year, to provide manufacturers with plenty of lead time. 
  1. Place orders with manufacturers during their off-season/non-peak season. Getting an early jump on furniture procurement can give schools an edge, according to Volner. “Place orders in the winter months with manufacturers, during their off-season, and you may get a better price.” Typically that off-season runs November through February, she says. 
  1. Take advantage of all-inclusive deals that package design, assembly/install and other support services. Oftentimes schools can get the most value from one-stop-shopping, where their furniture supplier also provides planning/design and installation services. These services “can be a lot more expensive if you’re paying for them separately,” Volner notes. It’s also worth noting that those package deals often give a school access to a team of service providers — a designer, an install specialist and an account coordinator to oversee the end-to-end process.
  1. Consolidate spend and the number of vendors with which you do business. Safety is paramount for schools, so doing business with fewer vendors/suppliers helps control who gains access to school grounds, Volner points out.  Consolidating spend with fewer vendors/suppliers also may benefit the bottom line. “This is a volume-driven business,” she says, “so if you know you’re going to need a certain furniture product now, and you’re going to need more of that product in a year or two, when you build a new school, then it makes sense to consolidate that order, because you’ll most likely get a better price and better freight rates, too.” Likewise, instead of ordering similar products from multiple manufacturers, consolidate that order with a single manufacturer to access volume discounts. 
  1. Kick the tires before committing. “Don’t make decisions based on the photography you see in a catalog,” Volner advises. Instead, reach out and touch the actual products you’re considering buying. Ask a distributor to bring in product samples. Visit a showroom. Or, preferably, visit another school where that product is in use, to experience how it functions, and how it has performed and aged over time. “You would never buy a car without driving it first. Why not kick the tires on furniture before you buy it?”
  1. Know what’s in the warranty or guarantee. Much of the value of school furniture lies in the warranty associated with a product. So be sure you’re clear on the warranty that backs the products you’re considering, keeping in mind that sometimes distributors and suppliers offer their own warranties or guarantees to backstop those offered by a manufacturer. Then be sure to read the fine print of the warranty. A warranty can reveal much about the expected quality of a product. If it comes down to choosing between a low-cost desk with a one-year warranty and a desk that’s slightly more expensive but comes with a lifetime warranty, the wise move might be to choose the slightly more expensive option.

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 shannon.bradford@staples.com or 336.207.5554.

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.”

Lisa McDonald
Executive Director
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.

To learn more about TCSA’s partnership with AAE, contact Erin Tholen. To speak directly with AAE, contact Rena Youngblood.

The lack of capital for building or renovating school facilities in low-income communities is a common problem. Fortunately, options exist to ensure that high-quality public charter schools can secure financing to meet the needs of their students. One such initiative is the New Markets Tax Credit Program (NMTC).

If you have a project scheduled to begin construction in the next 12 months, now is the time to talk to possible NMTC partners! While the ins-and-outs of accessing that program can be confusing, Capital Impact Partners has put together an informational overview for members of the Texas Charter Schools Association (TCSA). In addition to the overview below, we recently hosted a NMTC Program 101 webinar. Watch it here.

How do New Markets Tax Credits Work?

1) Each year, the federal government holds a highly competitive application process to award tax credits to Community Development Entities (CDEs) like Capital Impact Partners. The next round of awards is expected in winter 2017-18.

2) These CDEs serve as financial intermediaries through which private capital flows from an investor to a project in a low-income community, like a charter school. In return for funding a charter school project, the investor receives a tax credit equal to 39 percent of the cost of the investment.

3) As a borrower, you stand to receive a number of benefits from a NMTC transaction:

a. Favorable blended interest rate
b. Potential for high loan-to-value (90 percent+)
c. Minimized debt service
d. Seven years of interest-only payments
e. Potential for substantial debt forgiveness (20-25 percent of the total project cost)

NMTC transactions have a few other guiding principles with loan amounts of at least $5 million and a term that lasts seven years. Once that initial term is over, the facility will need to refinance. Due to the complex nature of the transaction, the borrower should expect higher than usual legal costs, though these are usually absorbed by the funding in the transaction and not paid out-of-pocket.

A NMTC Program report that provides further details, diagrams and examples can be downloaded here.

What Projects Qualify for NMTC Financing?

The simplest way to qualify for the NMTC Program financing is if your school facility exists in a census tract where the poverty rate in the surrounding community is at least 30 percent and/or the median income is below 60 percent of area or statewide median income. A CDE would be happy to research your proposed school site to see if it meets qualitications criteria.

Capital Impact and Texas Charter Schools

Capital Impact Partners is a national Community Development Financial Institution. A key part of its mission is to partner with a broad range of organizations to finance facilities that increase access to critical social services in low- to-moderate income communities.

Capital Impact Partners sees Texas as an important state to focus its attention and has placed loan officers in Austin to better serve local communities through the region. Capital Impact Partners recently closed a NMTC transaction with Montessori For All to build a new charter school facility. By taking advantage of the NMTC program, Montessori For All secured $14.5 million in NMTC financing, representing more than 100 percent of the appraised value of the property. Montessori For All will pay interest only on the debt at below market rates during the initial seven-year period. At the end of that period, almost $5 million of that financing will be forgiven.

"New Markets Tax Credits allowed us to build the school facility we need to best educate our students. We were able to borrower low cost debt, letting us spend more of our funds in the classroom. The New Markets process was tough, but we could not have done it without Capital Impact Partners. Their dedication and commitment to our project made all the difference. We're thankful for their partnership in getting our school built!"

– Sarah Kirby Tepera, Chief Operating Officer of Montessori For All

Our goal is to ensure that public charter schools in Texas receive the financing they need for their projects. If you have any questions, you can contact Will Robison, Senior Loan Officer, at 512-369-3597 or wrobison@capitalimpact.org.

Effective branding can do wonders for your school’s talent recruitment, community engagement, and enrollment. You’ve spent countless hours developing your mission and vision, so it is important that the community you interact with is fully engaged in the same vision.

Uniforms are one way to increase brand awareness for your school. If your students wear uniforms, the process can be overwhelming for school administration and bothersome for parents. If you are considering an e-commerce solution for logo design and uniform purchases, here are some things to consider:

• Are branding design services free?
• Will you create a custom e-commerce website that is also multi-lingual? What are the associated costs for development and maintenance?
• Will you receive free samples for proper sizing?
• Will you receive free shipping to your school?
• How many vendors does the company work with? Is the company vendor-agnostic? You want to ensure best product and pricing.
• Are items pre-packaged and labeled for ease of distribution?
• Will there be a dedicated account manager for administrators and parents?
• Who manages customer service for your parents? Do they offer bilingual customer service? Do parents receive personal confirmation calls?
• Is there an option for fundraising dollars to go back to your school from each purchase?

While this may seem like a long list to consider, the good news is that epluno can meet all of these expectations. See what other charters say about epluno’s service:

“Thank you for helping us with our vision…we are grateful for your ever-present assistance in making things as smooth as possible when it comes to our uniforms!” -Melissa Ferrer, Founders Classical Academy of Schertz

“The transition from ordering bulk order to our online store was made smoothly by everyone at epluno. It’s not easy to take orders from over 600 students and meet each and every demand with amazing customer service. French Toast/ epluno has done for me and New Heights Academy just that. They have had a great attitude, a can and will do attitude since day one.” -Eliza Valentin, New Heights Academy Charter School

"The personalized website makes ordering simpler and friendlier for families and has also been easy for the school to update when needed." -Sam Vanderplas, Founders Classical Academy of Flower Mound

epluno will be in your area and we don’t want you to miss the opportunity to learn more about this solution! We are bringing our vehicle to your school in the first two weeks of June – let’s discover how we can streamline your uniforms and spiritwear.

For more information, contact Sacha Amen

Does your technology infrastructure need a boost? With the E-rate program filing window coming up, now is the time to consider whether your school is making effective use of the E-Rate program.

The Universal Service Fund’s School and Libraries Program, more commonly known as the E-Rate program, awards $3.9 billion annually in funds to support the broadband and Wi-Fi needs of schools and libraries in the United States. In particular, charter schools serving high percentages of students eligible for free or reduced meals under the National School Lunch Program are prioritized highly in this program. In a climate that offers few funding mechanisms to support facilities, the E-Rate program helps offset the cost of technical infrastructure that most schools will implement in their facility projects anyway.

E-Rate offers up to a 90 percent discount on broadband, and up to 85 percent on Wi-Fi services and related infrastructure. Common E-Rate eligible needs include:

• High quality, high bandwidth Internet Access
• Wide area network connectivity
• Wireless access points and other network electronics
• Building network wiring in support of the above

With over 10 years of experience working exclusively with charter schools and the E-Rate program, E-Stream Technologies has a substantive understanding of both the technologies as well as the E-Rate program rules, and is committed to assisting charter schools use these funds effectively.

In 2008, E-Stream began working with KIPP Delta Public Schools in the state of Arkansas. KIPP Delta serves a student population with over 90 percent eligibility for free or reduced meals in the National School Lunch Program. Being a rural organization and with relatively little E-Rate program participation at the time, KIPP Delta experienced significant daily operational and instructional challenges due to unstable, insufficient, or non-functional Internet Access and Wi-Fi: Teachers and classrooms could not access web-based content reliably. Operations staff could not access central repositories of school data. Basic network printing was hit or miss. The prime reason: The rural location often increased the cost of quality technologies and services beyond what school budgets could reasonably accommodate.

Starting in 2009, E-Stream Technologies assisted KIPP Delta in obtaining significant E-Rate support for an organization-wide overhaul of its technical infrastructure. “With the support of local partners we [KIPP Delta] selected during annual competitive bidding, in just a few years we have virtually eliminated the problems our staff had in accessing the Internet,” says Scott Shirey, Executive Director. “As a result of the increase in stability in our systems, we’ve become a more efficient organization, and more effective in our mission.”

Getting support from the E-Rate program isn’t without its hurdles, however. The compliance requirements are significant, and applications often undergo close scrutiny, sometimes resulting in randomly-assigned complete audits of the application process. “E-Stream handled every step of the review process comprehensively when our applications underwent scrutiny. By the time we started review, E-Stream already had documentation prepared that was assembled and provided during review. The process was painless, and the result well worth our investment.”

If you’d like to learn more about the E-Rate program, or discuss your organization’s eligibility to participate, please call Ignacio Gonzalez at 888-776-5269, or email us at erate@estreamtech.com.

Are your students maximizing their learning potential after-school? If you are considering alternatives for your after school program, then you’ll want to check out Champions, a Texas Charter Schools Association Solution Provider!

Champions, a turn-key, AdvancED accredited before and after school program, is dedicated to helping children find the spark that ignites their curiosity while giving them the freedom to follow their interests across a range of subjects. As your partner, we will work with you to tailor our curriculum to complement your school’s initiatives. Our goal is support your school day and community, while handling all aspects of your after-school program!

In fall 2015, International Leadership of Texas Garland K-8 was searching for a high quality after-school care program to serve their large number of families requiring an after-school care solution. Irene Aguilar, the principal of the campus, stated, “We decided to switch providers in the middle of the year last year to be able to enrich our students' after school experience with a structured, well managed program which offered standards based weekly themes. Our parents noticed the difference immediately!”

For ILTexas Garland K-8, Champions was a welcome change. With Champions’ significant investment in resources, the space was transformed into an inviting learning environment with many educational choices for the children. Ms. Aguilar comments, “From the humanoid Robotics programming class offered, to the library of books and wealth of educational toys and games in the learning centers - the differences were impressive, and our parents were so appreciative for what Champions had to offer.”

Champions’ hands-on curriculum builds the skills that research has confirmed are critical for children’s success: executive function, social-emotional development, inquiry-based learning, literacy, and a focus on 21st century learning skills. Through providing a centers based approach to after school care with the curriculum, educational toys, outdoor time, and snacks, the stage is also set for homework completion. “The commitment from the Champions staff to offer quality homework assistance to our students, while allowing students to make connections with what they have learned in their regular school day, is quite impressive,” said Ms. Aguilar.

For schools with high after school enrollment, these aspects of a Champions program are even more valuable as Ms. Aguilar said, “Even with increased enrollment this year, I can count on a safe, well organized, standards focused program for students in our after school Champions program!”

If you’d like to learn more, please visit us at the TCSA Conference, Booth 21 or visit our web site at www.discoverchampions.com. If you’d like to discuss the needs of your campus or school system in person, please contact Melinda Smith at 713-396-6439 or melsmith@klcorp.com.

Planning for Innovative Expansion: How we can help you grow

In general, schools are experiencing increasing student enrollment, and among the fastest growing sector are public charter schools. According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), public charter school enrollments have gone up by 1.7 million in the past decade. The number of charter schools across the country has increased by 3,500. Overall trends indicate that enrollment size in charter schools has significantly grown from the school year 2003-04 to 2013-14. Specifically, the percentages of public schools that were charter schools with an enrollment size larger than 300 increased.

With this upsurge in enrollments, schools are looking everywhere for a solution to accommodate the urgent need for more classroom space. Often, the solution lies in temporary structures while full projects are completed. However, there are many options to consider when taking on a project like that and still providing a modern approach to classroom teaching and learning. Here is what you should keep in mind while strategically planning for a growing enrollment.

Are You On Top of Modern Advancements in Education?

Are You On Top of Modern Advancements in Education?

Technology has become a large part of education and is being incorporated in schools across the world. So much so that it is now almost impossible to teach a class without using an electronic device.

Bringing different types of technology into teaching environments not only makes learning more interesting, but it also provides stimulus to many senses at a time, resulting in a more lasting impact on the student. Technology allows for more interactive classroom sessions by spurring discussions and keeping the students engaged on all levels.

Furthermore, audio-visual teaching aids, innovative teaching techniques, and the use of apps in teaching caters to all the different types of learners you would find in a classroom; auditory, visual, kinesthetic, and audio-visual learners.

Schools are now recognizing a need to impart a more wholesome educational experience to students, and many are doing their best to make their classrooms technology-friendly.

How Mobile Modular Can Help with Space Issues and Technology

Mobile Modular offers a variety of classroom rental plans that can adapt to any budget and enrollment size. These plans are highly flexible and can be modified to fit your needs. Our modular classrooms can be installed quickly, are highly energy-efficient, are made with materials of the highest quality, and are surprisingly affordable.

Furthermore, since all our buildings are manufactured offsite, your school routines will remain uninterrupted for the entire duration of the installation. We pride ourselves in swift work and quick delivery to allow you to temporarily (or even permanently) address any space issues that you may find while planning to accommodate a larger student population.

At Mobile Modular, we can combine the issues of expanding your educational space as well as fulfill any ideas you would have to incorporate more technology into your teaching setting with our new FREE technology promotion.

We can provide private, charter and higher education schools the potential freedom to build their own innovative classrooms. With the rental of our portable classrooms options, we are offering a choice of free technology products that you can select to enhance your learning environment.

You can receive five percent of the total rental dollar amount (or up to $5 thousand) in the following products:
-Chromebooks™
-Chromebook Charging Carts
-Cloud Consultations
-Projectors
-Document Cameras

We invest in your journey to providing the best possible education to your students, and we understand that this can only be done with top quality classrooms that have ample space, are well designed, and are equipped to handle the different variety of educational technologies.

Contact us for more information about our educational promotional offer, or get in touch with us to speak with our sales representatives. We are happy to walk you through the offer so you can make the best choice for your school.

On Tuesday February 2, the Texas Charter Schools Association (TCSA) hosted its second annual Solution Provider Training. More than 50 corporate vendor partners (or as we affectionately call them, “Solution Providers”) came from as far away as Minneapolis and Milwaukee to expand their knowledge on charter schools.

TCSA educated our partners on what exactly a charter is and is not, historical trends, recent Texas legislation, and TCSA's interaction with its members. A panel of charter school representatives from Austin Discovery, John H. Wood, Southwest Prep, and Wayside schools spoke on how they function operationally and their preferences on how to conduct business with them. Partners from BB&T, Preferred Meals, and Texas Teachers Alternative Certification also shared their experiences working with member schools and partnering with TCSA in the past five years.   

It was a day full of information, questions, answers and lots of peer to peer networking.  Our partners are now better equipped to build relationships with our member schools.

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