Afton assists start-up of the Tennessee Achievement School District as State transforms underperforming schools
Afton Partners worked with the Tennessee Achievement School District (“TNASD”) in 2012 to plan and scale the finance and accounting function for this start-up school district, one designed specifically to address the at-risk population of students in schools performing at the lowest 5% of the State’s metrics.
Afton’s work included evaluating the organization’s financial system options, providing technical assistance to establish financial systems and processes, developing multi-year staffing plans, creating financial performance criteria for charter operators, and creating a multi-year financial projection model.
More recently, Afton assisted the TNASD in the implementation of an intra-district funding formula that accounts for the needs of special education students.
Running a highly-decentralized system, or one that includes both district-run and charter authorized schools, enhances the need for strict LEA-level policy and procedures for intra-district funding formulas, grant reporting and compliance. The vast majority of the TNASD’s schools are run by non-profits authorized by the TNASD. As such, the TNASD serves as a pass-through of state, local and federal funding to most of its schools. As the LEA, the TNASD remains responsible for state and federal reporting, but unlike most districts, the TNASD must aggregate financial reporting and federal fund claims from dozens of disparate school operators. The TNASD’s role in setting policy and procedures for financial reporting is essential to ensuring timely, accurate grant reimbursements. Furthermore, as there are so many different entities educating students within the TN ASD, a school operator with an exceptionally high IEP population in one school highlights the need for an equitable student-need based formula, as the school cannot pull funding from a larger district budget, as is done in most traditional school districts. Most recently, Afton assisted the TNASD in the implementation of an intra-district funding formula that accounts for the needs of special education students.
Long term financial planning is essential to early decision making in the design of a system of schools. TNASD at start-up had important decisions to make in its design, particularly in the way of compensation systems, funding formulas, and centralized supports. These decisions have a significant impact on long term finances, and as such, it is important to make those decisions with the understanding of the long term financial impact. Afton created a multi-year financial projection model, incorporating TNASD’s enrollment projections, centralized support planning, and scenario planning its compensation models, to ensure the financial sustainability of those district-level organizational decisions.
Charter schools running schools in multiple states may find less “efficiencies of scale” than anticipated. TNASD recruited several nationally recognized charter school operators from other states. In many cases, these operators have needed to create regional offices in TN supporting certain back office functions including finance. Most aspects of financial operations differ from state to state and therefore require additional and different supports – including chart of accounts, financial reporting requirements/compliance, and funding formulas.