Preparing for the unknown: Masters’ pandemic finances, Feb-May 2020

An in-depth look at how Masters navigated an emerging health emergency and took early steps to prepare for a return to in-person learning.

Preparing for the Unknown: Masters Pandemic Finances, Feb-May 2020

By Logan Schiciano, The Masters School

Check out the mutlimedia piece above to read about the school’s pandemic response from Feb-May 2020.

No manual exists for navigating a school through a deadly pandemic, but Masters’ Chief Financial Officer Ed Biddle drew from the next best resource – a comprehensive report analyzing the effects of the 2008-2009 recession on independent schools across the nation. After school shut down unexpectedly last March, Biddle quickly called up the author of the study, Jim Pugh, whose 12 takeaways from the last major economic crisis have guided Masters’ response to the virus since it arrived in New York a year ago.
While Biddle said the most difficult part about the early stages of the pandemic was staying calm, he harnessed Pugh’s advice, upholding optimism and a collaborative approach through a period of induced isolation and uncertainty.

Biddle said, “The role of a CFO at a school is to help inform the financial decision making by the leadership team and the board. People will look to me to see if we’re going to be okay. I don’t answer, ‘Yes, we’re going to be okay, but–’ I say, ‘We’re going to be okay, and–’”

That “and” included a series of crucial steps in the early stages of the pandemic that impacted the school’s ability to adhere to its top fiscal priority – supporting the educational program.

Based on data from Pugh’s study of independent schools during the recession, Biddle said he needed to prepare the school for lower contributions from donors, lower enrollment and higher costs. 

“We had no idea what our expenses were going to look like, but we knew they were going to be higher,” he said. “And we anticipated that our revenues would be lower due to lack of fundraising and potentially due to enrollment, because in prior recessions people who are in a position to pay for private school have actually not enrolled their kids in private school, but kept them in public school.”

Continued in multimedia piece…

This story was originally published on Tower on March 15, 2021.