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School Board:
Money, People and Policy

 
By Greg Brothers
 
 
            I love my School Board. It is filled with decent, godly, hard-working people who give their time (and money!) so that my church can enjoy the blessings of an Adventist school.

            But sometimes, I need to work a little harder at loving my School Board, especially when it deals with three things: money, people, and policy.
 
Money
 
            Take money, for instance – something my School Board does a lot from our church. But look at the alternatives:
  • Raise tuition? Good luck with that – the median family income in my county is $38,808 . . . and I’d guess my church members aren’t doing much better. Five years ago, remember, 70-percent of Adventist families made less than $50,000 per year, and 40-percent made less than $25,000. That doesn’t leave much to pay school bills.1
  • Increase Conference support? My Conference already puts more money into teacher subsidies than it does into pastors’ salaries. Maybe that’s why one Conference officer told me that “nothing keeps [him] awake at night more than funding our schools.”
  • More fundraisers? Our school raises generally raises about a tenth of its budget this way – more than it gets in subsidy from our church. But even with all we do, the fact remains that you can only eat so much fruitcake!
            No, it’s easy to see why School Boards turn to churches for funding – and when this happens to my church, then I need to stop. Take a deep breath. And remember that Adventist education is not an expense; it’s an investment.

            Granted, it doesn’t hurt to let my School Board know about all the other investments our church makes. “I find that many of our school board members do not really understand how the church functions financially,” says Carol McLeod, Associate Superintendent for Elementary Education in the Oregon Conference.

            “That’s why pastors need to let them know about a church’s constraints in relation to subsidies or student assistance,” she adds. “A clear understanding helps the school board function better, help us see that ‘we are the same page,’ and allow us to move forward together.”

            Then too, I try to keep an eye on two things: our school’s enrollment, and its outstanding accounts. I don’t always understand our school’s financial reports – it uses accrual accounting, which is not as “intuitive” as the cash method used by my church. But if we have enough students and they’re paying their bills, then I’ve learned not to worry about the rest of the budget.

            And that give me more time to worry about people!
 
People
            As the pastor of a church, I don’t often get asked to fire people or have them kicked out – but as a member of our School Board, it happens all the time.

            What’s more, it’s not always easy to decide how our Board should deal with these situations. People are like baseball teams, after all: everybody wins some of the time, and everybody loses some of the time.  Even the worse student (or teacher) gets some things right, in other words – and even the best student (or teacher) gets some things wrong. So when it comes time expel a student (or fire a teacher), then it’s not always easy to balance the wins and losses!

            That’s why my School Board tries not to get involved in these situations – no, not unless it needs to get involved.
  • If a student isn’t doing homework, for instance, then we let the teacher deal with it.
  • If a teacher is giving too much homework, then we let the principal (or Superintendent) deal with it.
  • If a teacher wants to get rid of a student (or a student wants to get rid of a teacher), then the Board will step in . . . but even then, our role is limited; we are the jury – not the judge, not the defense counsel, and especially not the prosecuting attorney!
            “If you need to assess a teacher, for instance, that’s the principal’s job,” says Matthew Butte, Associate Superintendent for Secondary Education of the Oregon Conference. “Lacking a principal, it’s the superintendent’s job – but the Board needs to look to them for teacher evaluation; that’s not the Board’s job.”

            Obviously, this mean I need to trust the staff at our school (not to mention our Conference’s Superintendent of Education); that’s why it’s important for me to keep in touch, show up for staff worships, and invite them to my house for Sabbath lunch.
            “According to one pastor,” writes Pamela Consuegra in her study of this subject, “hearing about issues first from the classroom teachers provided him with firsthand knowledge of the problems, challenges, and issues, and turn, allowed him to support the school administration and teachers.”2

            Or not support, as the case may be. Even the best teacher will have trouble with some students, after all – and even the best student will have trouble with some teachers.

            But if a student is always having trouble with teachers . . .

            Or a teacher is always having trouble with students . . .

             Then its time for our Board to start looking for some permanent solutions – and that means we need to start looking through our school’s policy manual.
 
Policy
            That policy manual, by the way, is one of the biggest differences between running a church, and running a school.
            I mean, yes – I have a church manual . . . somewhere.

            I also have a copy of our Conference’s Policy Book; I use to find out when the Conference office is closed.
            But as a pastor, I don’t deal with very many heavy-duty legal situations that absolutely, positively need to be done right the first time – and when I do, the Conference usually steps in and takes over. When it comes to church policy, in other words, I can be fat, dumb, and happy . . . but still pretty safe.3

            On a School Board, however, little mistakes can have big consequences. If our School Board votes to “fire” a teacher, for instance, when we could have voted “not to rehire,” then we have just cost that teacher thousands of dollars in unemployment benefits!

            “That’s why policy is important,” says Matthew Butte. “That’s why following policy is important. That’s why I tell Boards, over and over again: ‘follow the policy.’”

            You can only follow the policy, of course, when you know the policy – and most of the time, I leave this to our principal or our Superintendent. Every now and then, however, neither one can make it to a meeting. This usually means we table business that isn’t routine until they can be there . . .

            But I keep a PDF file of our Union’s Education Code on my laptop, just in case!

            Then again, it’s not enough to get it right in your meetings if you don’t get it right in the minutes. That’s why I keep the minutes of our School Board meetings – it’s not that I’m a better secretary than anyone else; it’s just that I’ve been on the Board so long that I know what goes into the minutes (and what gets left out).
 
Love
            None of this does any good, of course, if you don’t love the people on your Board. No, love is essential – and if you bring nothing else to your Board, then at least you can give it that.

            But you’re not the only one who gets frustrated by money, people, and policy – and if you can help all the other members of your School Board deal with these three things, then they will love you for it.

            And that makes it worth the effort.
 
Greg Brother pastors the Lincoln City (Oregon) church district; this includes the Adventist churches in Lincoln City (110 active members) and Nestucca (15 active members), as well as a 12-grade Adventist school (100+ students) where he’s been teaching high school Bible classes for many years.
 
            1Cited in Thambi Thomas’s “The Critical Role of Pastors in Adventist Education.” Ministry (December 2009).
 
2Pamela Consuegra, “A Multiple-Case Study Describing Collaborative Relations Between Adventist Pastors and Teachers in the Eastern United States.” Doctoral thesis, Andrews University School of Education (August 2012).
 
3The big exception here is child-safety – a good example of how our school’s emphasis on policy is beginning to show up in the ministry.
       

Sidebar: Student Assistance
            In addition to its direct subsidy to the school’s operating budget, many churches also provide Student Assistance i.e. financial aid for children who attend an Adventist school. And yes, the money is well spent . . . but you can prevent some of the headaches that come with it if you:
 
Get help!
Check with your Home and School Association to see what it can do. One year, for instance, one of our parents’ groups took responsibility for the non-Adventist students at our school – a $4,500 commitment.
 
Set a deadline.
We don’t guarantee anything to anyone who asks for help after June 15. (We may help them anyway, but we don’t guarantee it.) This gives us the time we need to look over requests and line up support.
 
Ask them to do their share.

We don’t give more than 90-percent of tuition in student assistance. Then too, we make it clear that a family may lose all or part of its student assistance if their child fails a class or has more than eight unexcused absences for the year; likewise, if the family falls behind in paying their share of tuition.
 
Use a standardized form.
We’ve been using the service provided by Smart Tuition Aid for two years now. While some parents don’t like filling out their form, we’ve found it extremely helpful – not least because it gets rid of the suspicion that we’re playing favorites.
 
Maintain confidentiality
Our church has a five-member Student Assistance Committee – three of whom are elected, plus the church’s Treasurer and pastor. Its members are the only people who look over requests . . . and when they’ve made their decision, the only thing they take to the Board is the total amount of student assistance that’s been requested for that year.

Keep it legal.
Remember: church members cannot “sponsor” a specific child (even if they’re not related); they can only give money to the student assistance fund that’s been established by your church. Need more information? Check the Internal Revenue Service’s Publication 526: Charitable Contributions.

One last thing:
My church found it helpful to take student assistance out of the Combined Budget and run it as a separate fund. That’s because some people give to student assistance who won’t give to Combined Budget (and vice versa).


Sidebar: School subsidies in a multi-church district:
 
Marjory’s Law of Church Subsidies: If more than one church supports a school, then each church’s subsidy will be determined by a complicated formula that makes every church feel as though it is paying more than its fair share.
 
Mae’s Corollary: Any attempt to “clarify” this formula or “make it more fair” will be seen as an attempt by one church to reduce its subsidy by making other churches pay more.
 

Sidebar: Hiring teachers
Know what you need.
You’re not hiring a baby-sitter; you’re looking for a trained professional. So take some time write a job description – one that includes your goals for this classroom. Tired of dealing with discipline issues, for instance? Then put “Good classroom management” at the top of your list.
 
Keep it legal.
You can ask anything about everything that is relevant to the job – but questions about age, gender, race, marital status, retirement plans, and (in most cases) health are not relevant; what’s more, they’re not legal – so don’t ask them. (And yes, this includes questions that begin with the phrase, “I know I shouldn’t ask this, but . . .”)
 
Don’t argue about certification

Teachers need to certified for the grade they’re teaching (viz. elementary or high school) – and they may need to be certified for the subject they’re teaching (viz. math or a foreign language). If the Conference says someone isn’t certified, in other words, then you can’t hire them – not unless they can get “provisional certification.”
 
Check references.
If they were a good teacher before, they’re probably a good teacher now; that’s why I’ve never found a better predictor of success in our school than success at another school.
 
Use the interview to sell your school.
I’ve not found job interviews to be much help in evaluating candidates; that’s why I try to pick the teacher I want from their references, and use the job interview to tell them why they should accept this job!