For this episode of our CHARTER EDtalks, Ryan Eldridge, one of Charter School Capital’s Charter School Advisors, had the honor of sitting down with Nick Driver, Vice President of Strategic Development at at Charter School Management Corporation (CSMC), to discuss what you should look for when selecting a charter school business service provider as well as which specific services and support you should expect your school’s business service partner to provide.
To learn the tips on how more about selecting a business service provider for your charter school, please watch the video or read the transcript below to get the full story.
Ryan Eldridge: Hello there and thank you for joining us for this episode of Charter Ed Talks. I’m Ryan Eldridge, charter school advisor for Charter School Capital, and I’m honored to be joined here by Nick Driver, Vice President of Strategic Development for Charter School Management Corporation (CSMC). We’re here today to discuss things to look for when selecting a business service provider.
Nick Driver: Thanks for having me.
Eldridge: Why don’t we go ahead and kick things off and get started.
Why might you need a business service provider?
Eldridge: My first question would be is why would you need a business service provider?
Driver: It’s a great question. Not all schools need business services providers. We’re certainly not in the business of trying to convince people that have got great people to use us or any business servicing provider.
One of the main reasons why a lot of schools choose us and other business providers is because they can’t find the people that are the best people for the back office functions or for any of the many other functions that charter schools have to perform now.
Remember, charter schools are like school districts, one school or multiple-school school districts. And they typically can’t find all those specialized personnel. At least not those that are well-experienced or well-trained. So that’s one very strong reason. That’s probably the main reason why many schools come to us is because they just don’t have the personnel.
Another reason is that we’ve been doing this for almost 20 years. And most schools when they start up, or even schools that have been around for a while, haven’t been doing this focused area for any amount of time.
The third reason is really cost. It usually costs a lot more to find those really specialized people in those areas across the state or across the country. And we have those specialists because that’s what we focus on. We don’t focus on educational services, we’re focused on all the other services you have to do to run a school.
What services do charter school business service providers help schools with?
Eldridge: So what kind of services can a business service provider help schools with?
Driver: Yeah, traditionally, Ryan, the types of services that a back office or business services provider provided were those services that were very fundamental to running any small business or a non-profit, and that is bookkeeping, payroll, budgeting, a little tiny bit of compliance.
As the compliance burden has grown because states are adding more and more regulations and therefore, there’s more stuff to comply with, schools have been really burdened by that, and so our compliance division has really grown.
So I think, in answer to your question, now, in addition to those basic services that we and many other business services providers provide, such as bookkeeping, payroll, budgeting, there are a range of services that we have been asked by our school partners to provide, such as academic services, writing petitions, helping get schools renewed or newly authorized. We have a whole division for that. We have an HR audit division. We have an authorizer division just for some districts that have really onerous oversight visits once a year that require four days of meetings and four packets of information.
So those are the kinds of services that we’ve had to add on because our clients have asked for it. Student data is another area. Of course, student achievement is one area that districts and authorizers look really closely at, and therefore, we’ve had to bulk up that division as well. So even though we started off as an accounting or payroll firm, we have found that academic services and student data services, those areas, like wrap-around services in general, have become as sought after as the main services.
What red flags should school leaders look for when selecting a service provider?
Eldridge: Nice. So what’s should a school look for when they’re choosing a business service provider, and are there any red flags that they should be aware of?
Driver: Yeah. There’s a number of service providers out there, and I think you would look for a couple of things because it is hard to choose. Many schools choose because of word of mouth. They know that some of their colleagues in other schools, their job-alike, who have chosen a certain back-office provider, passes on a tip that this is a good provider.
And that is often enough to go on, but what you also want to look for in addition to longevity, experience in the field, number of clients—but also especially referrals and references from clients, you would want to look for if there have been schools that have had issues and who those schools have partnered with in back office services. And you may want to give a second look to one of those business service providers if you thought that that was part of the reason why a school failed or why a school had troubles.
Should you expect support from your business provider for oversight and renewals?
Eldridge: Nice. Well, so you mentioned the oversight, the renewals, the authorization process. Would you expect increased assistance from your business service provider during those periods?
Driver: Absolutely. And that’s why we, at CSMC, have been asked a few times and why we’ve started new division that’s just around authorization, not just renewal or new authorization, but the oversight visit, which is an annual thing in many districts, especially big districts such as Los Angeles, San Diego, Sacramento, San Francisco, Oakland. Those have really onerous requirements, not just once every five years when you get renewed but every single year that you have to go through an oversight visit. And so those are the kinds of services that we’ve been asked to provide for our partners.
And frankly, we have the personnel, people who have worked as authorizers, people who have worked running schools, people who serve on boards of charter schools that have gone through oversight visits that really set us apart from other business services providers. But that is one thing that no matter who your business services provider is, you should be asking for help on.
Eldridge: Great. Well, that wraps up this episode of CHARTER EDtalks. Nick, thank you very much for joining us, and we hope it was beneficial to all of you out there viewing it. Thank you.
Driver: Yeah. Thanks, Ryan. Thanks so much.
Whether you’re just beginning the process of starting up a charter school, looking to expand, or trying to prioritize your next steps, download this eBook to get expert tips and pitfalls to avoid as you grow.
For this charter school resource guide, we turned to our wide network of charter school experts for best practices and strategies for success at every stage of maturity. All of the advice in this book comes from experienced charter school leaders who have been where you are now—they understand what you’re facing and the pitfalls to avoid.