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An eye on the bottom line at private schools

With an eye to securing stability and growth, private school officials know the importance of financial planning.

“It’s vital to our long-term success,” said Christina Mancini, director of alumni relations and development at the Aquinas Institute of Rochester.

Private schools do not receive much state funding, so they look to other sources. These include tuition, annual fundraisers, auxiliary services and endowments.

Aquinas is midway through its strategic plan, which is updated about every five years, and is in very good financial shape, she said. The school’s endowment now stands at $16 million, up from roughly $3 million a decade ago. During that time, Aquinas made facilities improvements and can now use more funds toward student assistance and merit awards, Mancini said.

In fact, Aquinas has nearly $1 million in aid available. It relies on a generous donor base and recently received a $1 million gift commitment from a donor who has not yet been publicly revealed.

Founded in 1902, the co-ed Catholic school has more than 20,000 alumni.

“We have a far-reaching network,” she said.

Aquinas teaches students grades six through 12. In the coming fall semester it will have an enrollment of nearly 790. Tuition covers 62 percent of the cost of a student’s education, Mancini said. The rest comes from fundraising, corporate grants and, to a small extent, state aid.

The school’s financial model mimics that typically found at universities: It has separate 501(c)3 non-profits—one for the school and one for its foundation. The latter houses the school’s endowment.

Mancini said the separate setup provides added financial security.

An annual campaign that raises close to $500,000 helps with the day-to-day operations of the school. Committees for a variety of fundraisers are made up of school officials, alumni and community members with expertise in relevant areas.

Aquinas also receives money through estate planning, Mancini noted. More than $10 million has been committed this way.

To secure unrestricted funds that can be used for immediate needs, McQuaid Jesuit High School holds an annual appeal through solicitation to alumni, parents of current and past students, and other supporters, according to its website.

The school’s 2013-14 president’s report states that the annual fund for the Catholic school for boys in grades six to 12 drew donations from numerous supporters, overachieving its goal of $1.8 million. The money was used to provide almost $2 million in financial assistance to a third of its students.

Lacking access to state aid means leaders at the Harley School must continually search for ways to secure funding for the school.

“It makes us scrappier,” said Ward Ghory, head of school.

Harley—with a student population of 538 in nursery school through grade 12—is in a relatively strong position, said Ken Motsenbocker, Harley’s chief financial officer. The endowment took a hit during and after the global recession of 2008 but has successfully rebounded, he said.

Tuition is the largest source of income at Harley. Other areas of revenue come from an annual fundraising appeal, a small portion of the endowment, and auxiliary programs such as swim camps and tutoring.

The school also is updating its strategic plan. It will focus on strategies for financial planning, facilities, academics, civic engagement and other areas.

“It will provide the framework for what we do next,” Ghory said, adding that long-term planning is essential for private schools.

“It’s a competitive and uncertain market. Long-term financial planning is something we can do that helps us focus on what is important.”

7/10/15 (c) 2015 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email rbj@rbj.net.


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