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From SAIS President Debra Wilson - December 2019

Tuesday, December 3, 2019  
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Hello Friends!

As I write this December note, I know my thoughts should be filled with the holidays and breaks ahead, but today I am thinking about the same thing as many of you: budgets. As with your school, the SAIS board votes on our next fiscal year budget in December. In short, wassailing will have to wait until the second week of December.

Budgeting is obviously crucial to school operations and, while not necessarily the last conversation the board will have about the budget, schools are trying to get as close to a final budget as possible, so the upcoming hiring and admissions seasons have clear targets. While you are planning your budget approach, you might want to consider some of the following items:

  • Given everything happening on the political stage these days, it is easy to lose track of how the economy is trending. Unfortunately, a generally weaker global economy and ongoing tariff battles are still pointing to a very real possibility of a recession in the next 18-24 months. That being said, the yield curve looks like it’s working for us these days, so we can breathe at least a little more easily for the moment. There are a number of steps schools need to consider in advance of a recession so you might want to have them in your back pocket and do a little leg work ahead of time.
  • Consider contingency budgets that project different enrollment scenarios and are attuned to forces that may impact enrollment. Contingency budgets help the school plan for shortfalls in admission or unexpected attrition. The conversations around these budgets let the board know that the school is ready with a back-up plan in the event of such impacts and it gets the board used to talking about the issue before it impacts the school directly.
  • If your school has a particularly close enrollment tie with a business, check in with them and see how the economy might affect their business. Larger international businesses that are involved in manufacturing or imports, in particular, are shifting their workforces to reflect some of the economic realities they are facing. It is better to know in advance if at all possible if they are going to be moving some of your families overseas. Checking in will help your school anticipate enrollment issues before they hit, lets the employer know that they are important to your model, and may strengthen that relationship.
  • In preparation for the hiring season right around the corner, clean up employment contracts so that employment is contingent upon re-enrollment. Chances are that you haven’t looked at your language in a while, so now is not a bad time to make sure those documents are ready to roll and can protect you if there’s a downturn.
  • Finally, be attuned to what is happening with your families regionally. The end of the calendar year provides great insight from various think tanks, research banks, rotary clubs, banks, and others on all levels of the economy. These indicators will help you understand what stressors your families are facing and what re-enrollment might look like. This state by state chart is one example and this Charlotte Regional Business Alliance page is another.

Beyond your budget and economy preparation, if you find yourself involved in negotiations for either a new head of school agreement or a renewal, the webinar we hosted with Terry Briggs last month might be useful. I have also written an overview on compensation and term sheets, including, different types of compensation, some key terms, and how to avoid intermediate sanctions trouble with the IRS.

Finally, if you are like me, you are very much looking forward to some time in front of a fireplace or beach, or both, with a good book and maybe a good dog. Winter break reading for me will include Nothing to See Here, by Kevin Wilson. A fellow Sewanee alum, Kevin got the rare rave New York Times review right out of the gate. He also wrote the book in 10 days, in case you need to readjust your sense of personal achievement. Also on my list, feeding my professional brain are: Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World by David Epstein and New Team Habits: A Guide to the New School Rules by Anthony Kim, Kear Mascarenaz, and my friend and former colleague, Kawai Lai. The latter is one I am particularly interested in as it is about building better team habits, and I am reasonably convinced that productive habits are what drive most of the good work we do.

Finally, my nine-year-old doesn’t know it, but I did order her the big illustrated version of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. As the third child, she doesn’t get many firsts in our house, and reading aloud from the illustrated versions creates special time for us.

Wherever your break may take you, and whatever may be on your reading list, I hope you find time for reflection within yourself, joy with your family and friends, and peace in the new year.

Debra Wilson
SAIS President

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Institute for Heads
June 23-26 | Serenbe
Administrative Leadership Institute
June 29-July 1 | Atlanta
Division Heads Conference
June 23-26 | Serenbe

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