Working with KIPP Eastern North Carolina, Neil Crawford served as Director of Finance during The Broad Residency.
I normally am not up this early, but I want to meet with the bus drivers before they begin their routes. In addition to serving as the regional finance director for KIPP Eastern North Carolina, I also manage KIPP Durham’s operations during its start-up year. This means that transportation also falls under my responsibility.
Today, we welcome a new bus driver and I introduce him during our weekly transportation staff meeting. As usual, we grab coffee and listen to driver feedback about their routes and students. I then review route changes and relay any messages I received from the school leader and parents. I spend the remainder of the meeting discussing new policies and everyone’s favorite topic — payroll!
With the exception of a few teachers who have arrived early, the school is empty. I use this time to collect my thoughts and prepare my weekly planning mail which summarizes the key tasks I will complete during the week. I also update the team on the status of longer-term projects. The COO and school leader use this email to provide feedback and align team priorities. Later, I update the project list spreadsheet which is stored on our shared drive.
On Mondays, I meet with the school leader for our weekly staff meeting to discuss key tasks and priorities. This is the first Monday of the month, so I also provide a budget snapshot. So far, we are spending below budget in most key categories. However, since KIPP Durham just opened, we made a lot of one-off purchases in the first quarter which make accurately forecasting recurring costs a little more challenging. I am working on an operations and finance dashboard to better summarize the data.
Buses return and the school is instantly filled with 93 fifth graders eager (and not so eager) to learn. Today there were no transportation incidents, so I tell the drivers I will see them later today.
I use this time to go through what seems like a mountain of emails. I respond to emails and complete smaller tasks that need immediate attention, such as processing new employee paperwork and health benefits. We are a small team, so most back-office administrative tasks land on my desk.
We are in the process of selecting a financial institution to provide a more competitive employee retirement and benefits solution. I lead this initiative and spent the weekend working on the presentation and analysis that will go before the board of directors. After wrapping up a few conversations with vendors and our auditor, I email the presentation and a one-page executive summary to my boss for review.
We use a third-party firm to manage much of our accounting work. I connect with our account rep daily, making sure she receives accurate information in a timely fashion. Today, I submitted invoices and requested payment. I also set the schedules for hourly staff in preparation for payroll.
There are not a lot of restaurant options near our school. For convenience, as well as watching my wallet and my waist, I tend to brown-bag it for lunch. I eat lunch at my desk and chat with a few students as they pass by.
Our school is located in a temporary space that has been remodeled into a four-classroom school. Next door, construction is taking place for our permanent school. On Mondays, I attend weekly design meetings with a host of project managers and our financing partners to review the project. Over the last few months, I have developed an appreciation for the complexity of managing a large-scale construction project. Weather permitting, we anticipate the new facility opening in August, 2016.
I check in with my boss, the chief operating officer. She offers her feedback on the presentation and points out a few questions that the board members may ask. I will finalize it tomorrow. I have a Broad Residency session next week, so we also discuss the logistics for the remainder of the week. Needless to say, I will be working before and after the Residency sessions.
The bus drivers arrive. I debrief the afternoon drivers. School is dismissed, and I make sure all children have boarded before signaling that the buses can depart.
I rush to the barbershop for a much-needed haircut before heading home.
I hop out of bed and get dressed for a three-mile run. I know that if I don’t get the run out of the way in the morning, I will be too exhausted to do it after work. I enjoy running on Durham’s Tobacco Trail. The Tobacco Trail is a 22-mile trail that runs along an abandoned railroad bed. After my run, I shower, grab a cup of joe and head out the door.
I work in an office on our Durham campus. It feels great to walk through the halls hearing, “Hi, Mr. Crawford,” from fifth and sixth graders. I use the word “office” generously. Technically, our shared services team members commandeer a few classrooms on the top floor of the middle school. Our new school currently serves grades five and six, so the top floor is not being used yet. Space is a constant issue for growing charter schools. Our team has proven that we are flexible and willing to work from anywhere to get the job done. However, I am relishing the extra floor space while it lasts.
Our holiday break begins on Monday, so I am determined to plow through the 400-plus emails I haven’t had time to review. The volume of email and the need to constantly switch gears between long-term strategic projects and urgent tasks is something that I am still getting used to, even after one year. Each week, it seems, I come up with a new email system. The latest one centers around organizing items by priority level. I must say that I feel a little more efficient when it comes to email, but the jury is still out on whether I actually am more efficient.
I list and start tackling my short-term tasks. I work closely with our external accounting agency, which is responsible for bookkeeping and financial compliance with the state and federal governments. Today I submit the payroll, bank statements, accounts payable and budget updates.
My boss is based in Gaston, North Carolina, so she calls to check in and gauge my accessibility over the holiday break. We both have young families in addition to our KIPP family, but recognize that the break is an opportunity to get a few things done during a slow period. As a matter of fact, we scheduled a Monday morning call with a local bank to discuss the closing of a capital lease on a several new buses.
Our director of talent and recruitment stops by to say hello and collect an expense reimbursement check. Since I joined the shared services team, we have developed a great working relationship and friendship. She is based in Raleigh but travels often. When she is in Durham, she always stops by the school to check on us.
I meet with our director of development and external affairs to discuss aligning our bank account structure with our sources of giving. This is happening within the context of a larger project to revamp all our treasury operations. We are moving our treasury operations, which include our corporate credit cards and bank accounts, from a retail platform to business platform before the end of the fiscal year. This will allow school-level employees to have limited access to the banking system while maintaining centralized controls and approvals.
I start working on our federal Charter Schools Program reporting application and budget. CSP is a grant available to new charter schools. I support the grant application and then the subsequent reporting. Reporting on federal grant expenditures is a beast. It involves making sure purchases are done properly and in compliance with the guidelines, ensuring the accounting ties to the proper expenditures and a host of other compliance-related tasks. Purchases are made at the school level, so I coordinate with the director of school operations. Once the items arrive, I make sure they are tagged and inventoried. I am behind on first-quarter submissions and soon to be on second-quarter. This takes the rest of my day.
I rush home to my apartment complex’s annual Christmas party.