Education Opinion

Money, Money, Money

By Roslyn Johnson Smith, Ph.D. — March 30, 2008 4 min read
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My friend Sr. Judy Gomila celebrated her 50-year Jubilee at Our Lady of Holy Cross College Chapel this morning. It’s hard to believe she was already a nun when I was starting Kindergarten. She’s as vibrant and funny as she was when I met her in my early teen years. The Marianite Sisters had a convent about two blocks from my house when they worked in our church parish during the 1970’s and 1980’s. Sister Judy was our counselor and leader of teenage girls in the church. I’ve been thinking about money all day and that I can’t seem to shake it. It started with her special celebration.

Although I know she took a vow of poverty half a century ago, I decided to give her one dollar for each of her 50 years. Money is not important to her, but she can use it to do something nice for herself or for someone else. I went to the bank to get a crisp $50 bill in exchange for a couple of twenties and a ten to put in my greeting card. When the teller said, “I can’t do that” I immediately flipped out (inside). She explained some nonsense about the machines dispensing the money and not being able to perform this simple request as I stood at the window and looked at her like she was an outer space alien. How hard can it be? I wanted to ask, “What kind of bank is this?” As she continued to explain, her supervisor came over. I guess I expressed my incredulity louder than I had thought--and I wanted to say, “Close my accounts. I’ll take ALL of my money in 50’s.” This Walter Mitty episode played in my head like a bad movie until the supervisor showed the teller how to perform this effortless service. Thank you Chase Bank.

The ceremony was beautiful and Sr. Judy was happy to see Jacinta, Terry, Leonard, and Leslie as we beamed with pride at her accomplishment and dedication to her vows. She’s still our role-model. After the Mass, we enjoyed a reception in the college cafeteria. Everyone wanted to know exactly what do I do as a Charter School Board President. All of them had seen me on television in December when some of our teachers staged a one-day sick out. Sometimes, I feel like Jim Carrey in the movie, “The Truman Show” as my life played out on television.

I tried to explain it as simply as I could, but there’s no simple way to say everything that I do. Since we don’t have a management organization, I do some of everything. And, as the only educator on the Board, there’s a lot that my colleagues expect of me. Then my friend asked me how much this job pays. She couldn’t believe that I don’t get paid. The explanation about that took even longer. My friend looked at me with the same expression I probably had on my face when talking to the bank teller, as if I were an alien creature. Her final suggestion was that I should get someone to replace me on the board and work as a consultant for the school. If we pay someone to do what I’m doing now, we’d probably start the talks at $100,000. It’s the going rate in many of the local charter schools. One charter school CEO makes $190,000 to oversee three schools, each of which has its own principal and assistant principal. I need money just like most people, but I don’t need that money. It’s not easy to explain without sounding like a saint (I ain’t) or a liar, or a fool. I think I love this work more than I want to admit. Actually, I consider it a blessing.

When I tried to explain that I no longer want to work every day, she reminded me that I work every day now and as a consultant, I would not necessarily have to go to school like a 9 to 5 job. I knew that. Except that I’m very happy about the money we are saving by not paying anyone to do work that I am blessed to know how to do. We will be able to make some vast improvements in the building, our academic program, and our fringe benefits next year with the money we are saving. I hope we can increase our health benefits payments and sponsor some out-of-state conferences for the faculty.

I’m proud to say that I did mail off the grant application that I was working on last week. I still have a few small ones left to do. Our principal is going to a training session to write the E-grant for Title I and Special Education. It’s the biggest application and I will only help with the budget part. It is so late in the year for this, but our charter was not finalized last year in time for us to participate in the training session. We have operated the entire year without any of the federal funding we are supposed to get. I don’t know how much we are due, but I know it’s a lot. When we get our reimbursements, it will be the basis of our contingency fund and our capital program fund for next year.

Managing this money has been the greatest intellectual stretch for me in all that I do with the school. I am good at managing other peoples’ money and I know how to raise funds. I did not know how to develop the detailed annual operating budget or complete the many steps in the state’s program budgets without the safety net of a central office staff to check my work. I’m learning more every day. The charter school set-up provides the autonomy to do things as we see fit. It also creates a type of isolation that is very scary. People’s livelihoods depend on us getting this right. They need their money to survive. Exactly 12 hours ago, I was standing in line at the bank thinking that money was not important to some people. Money is important to most people.

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