Balancing Priorities: How the Carroll Board Works on Increasing Faculty Compensation, Expanding Financial Assistance, and Managing Tuition Growth

Rena Clark, Carroll School Trustee

My name is Rena Clark, and I am, first and foremost, the mother of a Carroll alumna.  In addition, I have served on the Board of Trustees at Carroll for the last seven years. It's been a tremendous experience working with the institution, both as a parent and now as a board member. One of the things that makes the Carroll board different from some of the others that I've served on, is that many of the board members are either current parents or former parents of children who have experienced the Carroll education.

For many of us, it's been a very emotional journey - to arrive at Carroll, watch your child grow and develop, and then matriculate from Carroll onto new horizons. Carroll is the place where they understand your child, unlike previous academic environments, and create an educational framework that is unique to your child and your child's learning style. I believe strongly that as board members, because most of us have had that shared experience, that there's an emotional connection to Carroll, wanting Carroll to continue and wanting Carroll to be successful.

Over the years, through my work in the private equity sector, I’ve learned the value of being able to step in and assess situations to help drive a conversation around resources and the direction of those resources. At the same time, as Chair of the Finance Committee, I know the importance of keeping an eye to the mission of the business.

At Carroll, what is our mission? It’s educating kids with language-based learning differences in an inclusive community committed to embracing diverse strengths, identities, and lived experiences. As a Board, we regularly engage in conversations about how to balance three critical priorities each year in our budget-- increasing faculty compensation, expanding financial assistance, and managing tuition growth-- to fulfill this mission.

I get asked all the time, "How does Carroll manage itself from a financial perspective?" As a Board member, I feel a responsibility to peel back the layers of the onion so that our community has a clear understanding of the priorities that we have to balance. Carroll is not Carroll unless we provide each child with what they need. Our mission is to provide every child who we admit with the education and the educational framework that they need to be successful. We can't do that with 20 kids in the classroom attempting to learn to read and give each child what individually each might need. The Carroll model is an expensive one due to the high number of educators we have and our student to teacher ratio which is lower than most independent schools and much lower than public schools.

Priority 1: Increasing Faculty Compensation

Though our model is expensive and delivering on our mission is both labor intensive and challenging, with faculty and staff compensation comprising 75% of our costs, the Board and leadership of the school balances this with the need to do this as efficiently as possible. So what are our challenges in balancing the financial health of the school?  The first is to make certain that we can compensate teachers appropriately and fairly. Typically, Carroll teachers, like many independent school educators, are compensated less than their public school counterparts. It's been a part of our mission over the course of the last few years to get educator salaries in line with what we feel is an appropriate wage. Compensation is key to attracting and retaining the best educators as well as increasing the diversity of our teaching community. We are pleased that, for the 2022-2023 school year, the Board has been able to make significant gains in compensating our educators. Our compensation and benefits pool of dollars has increased, in an attempt to bring Carroll more in line with peer schools.

Priority 2: Expanding Financial Assistance

The other thing that's important is financial assistance, helping to make Carroll accessible to those from all walks of life. We continue to ask ourselves, “How are we going to make certain that every child that wants to come to Carroll has the ability to come to Carroll?” Our highest goal is giving each child what they most need while at the same time making a Carroll education broadly accessible. To fulfill this mission, the Board is committed to having a robust Financial Assistance program to support our community with many voices and perspectives. We are pleased that this year our financial assistance budget is $3.4M and will increase to $3.6M next year, which will allow us to provide assistance to 115 (25%) of our families.

Priority 3: Managing Tuition Growth

In considering our third challenge, the Board has attempted to manage the increases on tuition in a way that we feel is appropriate and can be managed by our families. We don't like to institute tuition increases and try to balance the need for revenue with the composition of our community. However, we do have to take into account the continued increases to the cost of living. Our expenses go up every year and so we need to be able to cover the expenses of the school. With a population this year of 442 students and 150 educators over three campuses, the Board works diligently to keep our tuition increases manageable. This year we are proud to have the smallest increase for tuition in the last 10 years! At 3.4%, this brings our annual tuition to $59,000.

We spend a lot of time every year discussing how to balance these three critical elements of our budget - faculty compensation, financial assistance, and tuition. The Board does its best to make certain that whatever is put forth is being done in a respectful and mindful way. The revenues that we collect, which basically comprise of tuition, don't cover all of the expenses of delivering a Carroll School education. Tuition covered only 87% of our budgeted expenses last year, leaving an average of $6,600 per student to be covered in other ways.

For this we rely on the generosity of our community. Our collective giving is critically important, no matter what the level might be. From my perspective, if we have a community where only one person gave a gift of a million dollars and nobody else gave versus an environment where everybody gave a dollar, I'll take the environment where everybody gave a dollar. Don’t get me wrong, we need and are thankful for those individuals/families who give a million dollars. The reality of it is that the one person who gave a million dollars may not be back again, but that entire community is saying with their collective giving each year that, "We support Carroll. We're going to give to Carroll."

For those who would ask, "If I were to invest in Carroll, what's my return?" My response is that the return on a gift to Carroll can be found in the eyes of our children. Using my own personal situation as an example, the return can be found in the confidence of a child, who arrived at Carroll in 3rd grade, with her self-esteem and confidence shaken by her educational experiences. The return is seeing today a young women, on the verge of turning 17, who is kind, smart, confident, inspired and who has become her number one advocate educationally and views her Carroll experience with great pride. That's the return for me.

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