A private school is different than a public school in that it is supported by a private organization, or private individuals rather than by the government or state. It usually involves relationships within a local community who share a common mission.
Starting a new K-12 private school requires one to two solid years of steady planning and development before the first student sits in a seat. Before starting the process, you should consider if your current market can handle another private school by conducting thorough market research. Once you determine the need, you can begin by identifying a working team of supporters that will steer the project to completion.
Here is a guideline to follow, with most tasks completed in the first 15 months.
The committee is responsible for doing preliminary work, which can begin about two years prior to the school opening. This may include parents or other prominent members of your local community. Having a good mix of talents will help you move quicker through the process, such as those with financial, legal, management, marketing, and building experience. All members will need to commit to the process and the time and energy needed to make the school a reality.
One of the first tasks of the committee is to determine if the school will go into an existing building or if you will be constructing a new one. Of course, building will be more expensive than moving into an existing one and extend your timeline.
Safety is of utmost concern so choose your location wisely, but also consider that older buildings can become a financial burden down the road. Modular buildings may be your best choice and more environmentally friendly.
Additionally, you will need to find out if your city has any building requirements or zoning permits for private schools. Some states and cities have different regulations for schools.
If you plan on opening up an online school, you can skip the step of locating a school site, however, you will want to locate office space to house your headquarters.
Having a lawyer on your committee or board helps with the legal requirements of opening your school and hopefully donates their time to file incorporation papers with the Secretary of State. Once you are incorporated, it becomes easier to raise funds because people are more likely to donate to a legal entity than to an individual. You will also need to decide if you want to incorporate as a non-profit or for profit school.
The school is indeed a business and a solid plan will guide you along the path to a successful school. The plan will dictate how you operate day to day and how you intend to grow. This document is shared with prospective donors to show how you intend to create a solid foundation for the future.
Create a detailed spreadsheet for projected income and expenses (P&L) for the next five years. This is a good task for the financial person on your committee. Be conservative in your numbers so you can have funds available for those “rainy days.” You will have an operating budget which may include adding more benefits in the future, and a capital budget, for that new theater department planned in year three.
Becoming a tax-exempt organization is another task for the lawyer or accountant on your committee. Once approved by your state, you can solicit tax-deductible contributions. Having this status can also help reduce your taxes, but paying local taxes is a good idea to support your local community since they are the ones that support you.
Now is the time to find your key staff members such as the Head of School and an Office Manager. The search will extend as far out as possible and requires detailed job descriptions as directed by your committee. Ideal candidates are those that share your vision and enjoy nurturing a project to completion.
Large amounts of capital are needed to build and maintain a school, so bake sales and yard sales will not be a wise use of your fundraising energy. Campaigns that can build momentum over the years are best and requires strong leadership and a lot of creativity. Since this is a business, you need to have a marketing and sales team, on staff or outsourced, with direction from a marketing professional on your committee. Remember that 80% of businesses fail in the first 5 years largely due to lack of marketing and sales.
To get the best skilled faculty you need to offer a competitive compensation package. Share your vision and invite them to be a part of the process. You want to begin this step as far out as you can.
Now that you have the building, the staff, and some funding, it is time to fill the seats with students. This requires getting out into the community and sharing your vision. The marketing person on your committee will be valuable in creating a plan and presentations.
About nine months before classes begin the office opens so you can accept admission, conduct interviews, order materials, and give tours. For example, January is the latest you want to do this before the fall semester.
About a month before opening, your new faculty will start work on planning for the school year and start building your school’s culture. Everyone will need to believe in the school’s mission and values.
If you have done your homework and know that a new private school is needed in your community, then it is time to reach out and get the process started. If you would like to start a private school and would like a school that is built for you, JAG Consulting Services can help.