In this phase, the team focuses on getting ready to open. This includes enrollment, preparing facilities, meeting compliance requirements, hiring staff, and beginning to implement the plan for the school.
Enrolling Students to Attend Your School
Planning for enrollment begins in the start-up phase of your charter school. Even the most well-designed programs cannot be successful if under-enrolled. The enrollment process includes recruitment, community outreach and marketing, as well as enrollment and lottery procedures.
Recruitment & Community Outreach
You cannot open without students! Recruitment is essential in ensuring a solid financial future and implementation of your vision and mission. Begin by getting the word out about your school. Clear and relevant materials are a key component to recruitment. Also, see this checklist to determine what you need to plan for in terms of enrollment.
It is important to clarify your enrollment procedures for your authorizer and your families. Please see this Sample Admissions and Enrollment Policy.
You also need to consider what you will need to do for students who enroll who have special needs, such as English Language Learners and students with IEPs. Click here to find FAQs about administering the CELDT for English Language Learners. Additionally, you will need to know how to effectively enroll students with IEPs.
Students are typically coming to your charter school from other schools. Here are example resources to assist in your request for records:
Public, Random Lottery
If there are more students interested in enrolling than there are seats, you will need to hold a public, random lottery. Keep in mind that you need to ensure that your lottery will be held in a public place, that parents are not required to attend the lottery, and that the lottery will be conducted by an impartial third party.
Throughout the enrollment process, you will need to keep families informed. Be sure to establish timelines and methods of communications with families interested in your school, or those that are involved in the lottery process.
Board Development & Governance
In California, charter schools are governed by a number of State and Federal laws and regulations. It is important for the school's operational health and legal compliance that the governing board understands its roles and responsibilities. For many first time board members, this can be complicated and confusing. It is important that founding governing boards receive the necessary training, adequately prepare themselves for school operations and establish the required policies and procedures before the first day of school.
While most authorizers require that a charter has filed its Articles of Incorporation before petition approval, some schools establish the board in the start-up phase as the schools are preparing to open their doors. Some factors that might impact the timing of filing, beside district requirements, include the amount of time between charter approval and school opening, fundraising capabilities, grant requirements, and founding team preference. As soon as the Articles of Incorporation are processed by the Secretary of State, the applicable nonprofit incorporation rules and regulations will need to be followed, including IRS conflict of interest codes, and California Nonprofit Public Benefit Corporation (Corporations Code Section 5110 et seq.).
Each school should consult their legal counsel to determine their individual incorporation process. Read more about the multiple steps, timeline, requirements, and CCSA Member resources for establishing a 501c3.
Continue to Recruit the Best Board Possible
You will need a strong board with diverse skill sets, including relevant educational leadership, nonprofit operations, educational finance, legal, fundraising, facilities, HR/staffing, technology, marketing/community outreach, and other mission-specific or community experience. Most schools will continue the recruitment process to finalize their board throughout the start-up phase. It's important that the board understands their collective strengths and weaknesses so they can fill in the gaps through additional members or through training. The Self-Assessment Tool for Non-Profit Boards is just one tool that is available to assist in this process.
The CCSA Self-Assessment Portal provides busy school leaders and new school developers with the ability to identify their strengths and areas of improvement across 10 key educational systems. After completing the assessment, leaders get instant reports and feedback that can help them to develop strategic plans, prepare for accreditation visits, gain access to valuable resources and self-target areas of needed growth among other supportive outcomes. The CCSA Self-Assessment Portal was modeled after the successful Texas Self-Assessment Portal and is designed to give valuable information and resources toward a continuous school improvement process in a one-stop shop for school data and school improvement resources. To access the portal, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ongoing and start-up governance training is essential to ensuring that the board members are ready to govern the charter school effectively. Training topics should include compliance requirements such as 501(c)3 corporate codes, Political Reform Act, Conflict of Interest Code, Brown Act/Open Meetings, and Meeting protocols. Depending on the board members' experience, trainings might also cover overviews of the educational program, needs of the student population(s), educational finance, fundraising, and other program or need-specific elements.
It is highly recommended that boards hold a retreat before the start of school to receive in-depth training. These trainings should be led by experts in the field, such as law firms, back office providers, and/or other consultants. Scheduling ongoing training will also be important to continue to address changing requirements and the evolving needs and challenges of the school.
To better understand what governance looks like for charter schools, CCSA offers a Governance Academy for members. The Academy helps teams develop legally-compliant governing board policies and procedures, and establish clear roles and responsibilities, including financial oversight and student performance.
Getting Numbered by the State
Once you have been authorized, you will need to ensure your school is assigned a school code. Getting this allows data to be reported accurately to the state and is necessary to receive state funding. Before a County-District-School (CDS) code can be assigned, the charter school must receive a number from the State Board of Education (SBE). A Charter Submission Package must be completed and submitted via mail to the California Department of Education for State Board review and number issuance.
The process of getting numbered may take a few months. Submit your package as soon as possible after the school is authorized to receive this code before the first apportionment of funding.
Memoranda of Understanding
A Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) is an agreement commonly used between charter schools and authorizers to outline responsibilities and expectations otherwise not addressed in the charter.
You will likely need to negotiate an operational MOU with your authorizer after your school's approval. Other MOUs may also be necessary. Include all foreseeable expectations (e.g. who will provide particular services, or expectations around accountability) in the MOU to ensure that you and your authorizer are on the same page. For example, the Alameda County Office of Education uses an MOU that specifies which entity, charter school or the authorizer, will be responsible for services such as transportation, food services, and service buy back agreements. The Fresno County Office of Education uses an MOU.DOC) to specify that charter schools are held accountable for providing their own back office provider support.
Special Education MOUs: Special education MOUs are commonly used to clarify the responsibilities of a charter school and its authorizer for providing special education services to students in the charter school. The special education MOU sets forth each party's specific responsibilities for identifying and serving students with disabilities, including those related to special education staffing and placement, and outlines how the charter school and authorizer will share the costs associated with special education at the charter school. The specific breakdown of responsibilities and costs may vary depending on the charter school and authorizer. Here are two examples, illustrating possible special education arrangements:
MOU between Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) and a charter school: Regarding the Provision and Funding of Special Education Services
MOU between Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) and a charter school: Regarding the Provision and Funding of Special Education Services
Facilities MOUs: Whether you secure a facility under Prop. 39 or another arrangement with your district, you may enter into a facilities MOU. Here is a sample of a facilities MOU.
Attendance is a key factor in student success and school sustainability. Attendance is also an avenue for critical funding sources, such as the Local Control Funding Formula. The development of an attendance tracking plan should be practical and comprehensive. It should also address policies and procedures that will be put in place to address truancy. The California Department of Education has multiple resources surrounding attendance issues, including:
- Child Welfare & Attendance
- Dropout Prevention
- School Attendance Review Board
- School Attendance Improvement Handbook
Identifying a Student Information System
A Student Information System (SIS) will help your school organize data, manage academic records, and collect data for reporting purposes. Specifically, schools use an SIS to manage student contact information, track daily attendance, create class schedules, record grades, create report cards, maintain school lunch records, automatically generate a school identification number for each student, and even store student pictures for each student's profile. Identifying the needs of the school and staff will help with choosing the right SIS.
The SIS can also collect data for other mandated information systems, such as, the California Longitudinal Pupil Achievement Data System (CALPADS); or gather data to submit reimbursements for the National School Lunch Program (NSLP). A short list of student information systems that charter schools across the state of California are using may be found in the Compliance & SIS Systems section of the CCSA Business Directory.
Understanding Reporting Requirements
Local, state, and federal reporting is mandated for all public schools in the State of California. Data is collected to track student progress, fulfill requirements for funding, and provide information about schools and students to state decision-makers, parents, community members, and researchers. It is critical that schools understand and stay on top of their reporting requirements.
New schools should become familiar with reporting requirements by reviewing the CDE website and CCSA's Planning Calendar, which can help schools keep track of important deadlines for local, state, and federal reporting. Schools are also encouraged to connect directly with their authorizer and local county office of education to ensure that they are aware of reporting expectations. Signing up for related list-serves can also help the school remain on top of updates as they occur. Specific required reporting to understand include:
- California Longitudinal Pupil Achievement Data System (CALPADS): Used to track students over time, fulfill state and federal reporting requirements, and to provide information about students and schools to state decision-makers, parents, community and researchers.
- California Basic Educational Data System (CBEDS): Collects information on student and staff demographics.
- Smarter Balanced Assessment System (SBAC) and Smarter Balanced Test Information Distribution Engine (TIDE): This a state assessment system designed to measure student progress toward college and career readiness.
- Online Public Update for Schools (OPUS): Used to notify the CDE of updates to information contained in the Public School Directory, such as contact information.
Common policies and practices include developing a school reporting calendar, implementing a student information system, and performing regular audits of the data. Having good data to report starts with maintaining complete and accurate information about students, courses, programs and staff, and ensuring that data management is integrated into daily operations.
Schools should also determine who on staff will manage their data. This person should be well-trained and should help establish and maintain school policies and practices for data. The California School Information Services (CSIS) offers annual in-person and online trainings to help with the ongoing development of this staff member.
Securing WASC Accreditation
Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) supports schools and/or districts with certification in conjunction with the California Department of Education. Going through the certification process will validate the educational institution to the public. To secure accreditation, a Request for WASC Affiliation must be submitted if the eligibility requirements are met. Accreditation is an ongoing six-year cycle in which schools have the opportunity to demonstrate their capacity to implement high quality learning and school improvement through the development of a Schoolwide Action Plan. Additional information can be found in Steps for WASC Affiliation and the WASC Initial Visit Procedures Manual.
Your academic program must align with the Common Core State Standards, and your students must participate in state required standardized testing. You must also develop a Local Control Accountability Plan, which is a required component for the Local Control Funding Formula. A School Accountability Report Card (SARC) reveals the overall progress of the school and is required in order to receive state funding.
Not only will your team need to determine how to implement required standardized assessments and additional baseline or interim assessments, but you will have to determine how to gather the data as well. The development of the expectations for student performance, grading, and promotion requirements (which must align with state or local standards) are just as vital as determining what tools and technology will be used to measure student performance and create a process to analyze student results. In the end, having a clear understanding on the organizational, financial, and management of your school will be instrumental in the development process as well as meeting your performance goals.
Due to the ever-changing landscape in education and forms of assessment, it is crucial that all staff are updated with the most current information of how these and other assessments are to be administered. In the Spring of 2014, The Smarter Balanced Field Test will be implemented across all schools in the state of California; all students in grades 3 through 11 will be expected to participate. The field test isn't intended to measure student academic performance; rather, it will help test developers make improvements in the way tests are created in the future. The California Department of Education (CDE) has created training videos and literature specifically designed to address Smarter Balanced Field Test training.
Be sure to refer back to the Methods of Assessment section of your petition for a list of assessments you will be administering. Prepare in advance to administer those assessments, and check whether or not each requires a trained or certified staff person to administer them. Trainings may begin as early as the spring or summer prior to when you open, so start early.
Resources for other assessments include:
- ETS California High School Exit Examination Training Schedule
- CDE Transition to New Assessments
- CDE Assessment Development & Administration Division
- California English Language Development Test (CELDT)
- The MAPP™ Career Assessment Test
Charter schools must understand all state and federal compliance requirements to successfully navigate the annual audit process. The K-12 Audit Guide provides the standards and procedures for audits of California K-12 Local Education Agencies and is issued by the Education Audit Appeals Panel (EAAP). Annually EAPP releases a permanent guide detailing the regulations and standards the auditor is to follow to evaluate a charter school's compliance with state programs. The EAPP website also provides resources on federal compliance requirements. State and federal compliance guidelines are subject to change at any time during the fiscal year, so charter schools are advised to regularly monitor the EAPP website. Consistent monitoring and implementation of audit guidelines will prepare your school for authorizer oversight visits and program review visits by the California Department of Education. The ultimate goal is for your charter school to succeed in both the education of students and the protection of your school's financial resources. Additional information may be found in K-12 Audit Guide: Navigating State Compliance Requirements.
Before You Open: Get Ready to Manage Your New School's Finances
Train Your Board: Board members need to understand the responsibilities and role of a governing board, how to comply with legal requirements, how to provide effective oversight, and much more. To get them up to speed, take advantage of these trainings and resources.
Hire & Develop Staff: If you haven't already, it is time to hire a business manager, CFO, or a back office provider to handle the school's finances. Ensure that someone has designated responsibility to manage all aspects of the school's finances - from strategic planning to reporting and managing the audit. Check out these resources for more information on audits, in-depth training for charter school finance professionals, and more. CCSA also maintains a planning calendar to help finance professionals and school leadership stay on top of annual reporting and other requirements.
Update Your Budget: Chances are that before you open, your budget will need to be updated to reflect changes at the state level, to manage cash flow and incorporate contingencies, and to reflect actual expenditures during the start-up process. To get up to speed on the state budget, visit the CCSA State Budget Update and these additional resources on financial management. While you're in the process of making updates, don't forget to revisit the financial policies included in your petition. Ensure you have clear procedures for fiscal management, monitoring, reporting, and managing the audit, and that you have identified your accounting software. Also ensure you have a strong contingency plan in place - just in case.
Plan Ahead to Take Advantage of Critical Funding Opportunities
Public Charter School Grant Program: This program provides critical funding for new charter schools via grants of up to $575,000 to cover approved start-up expenses. This is one of the few grants available for teams starting new charter schools. There are eligibility restrictions, and teams need to plan ahead in order to successfully secure this grant. For example, it is important that your petition is ready to submit ahead of the grant application deadline. Follow these steps to start getting ready:
Start thinking about whether or not you will need the support of a consultant or back office provider in writing the application. You can also reach out to your local CCSA School Development representative to find out about additional resources that may be available to you.
Revolving Loan: A great resource to help schools bridge the gap in the early years, the Revolving Loan Program extends low-interest loans, of up to $250,000 to new charter schools. As cash flow is a very common obstacle for new charter schools, teams are strongly urged to apply for this program. Learn more about the Revolving Loan.
Fundraising: New schools frequently fundraise to cover expenses that occur before the school is approved, the gap between program expenses and revenues, and cash flow gaps. Once your charter school receives the legitimacy of approval, funding opportunities will increase. Teams are encouraged to revisit their fundraising plan at this stage and ensure that they are maximizing opportunities to engage foundations, corporations, and individuals. For fundraising strategies, including how to develop a diversified fundraising plan, please see CCSA's resources on the topic.
School Staffing Plan
Charter schools have the authority to hire their entire staff, from school leadership to office personnel. That requires your team to find talented people, develop compensation plans, establish hiring practices, and implement evaluation procedures.
Staff Job Descriptions
Your initial hiring plan will depend on the make-up of your founding team and your opening day staff. Whatever your plan is, you want to ensure that you have the personnel in place to implement your mission and vision. Also keep in mind that regardless of your opening day staff, you will need to plan for how to recruit and hire when your school is at full capacity. Having thoroughly scoped positions and responsibilities will help not only in hiring the right people for each job, but in the implementation of your program. These samples outline key responsibilities, performance goals, and mission alignment:
Developing a Hiring Plan
Once you know what you are looking for in terms of structure and talent, you can start publicizing openings and officially begin your process for recruiting strong leaders and staff. There are many places to start looking for new staff, such as the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools job board, EDJOIN and Idealist. Also consider alumni networks and local universities. If you have not hired for jobs before it can be difficult to determine how to evaluate candidates, but there are best practices to adopt to effectively manage the process of hiring new employees.
Employment Status, Termination Policies and Evaluation
Staffing also means making important decisions as an employer. For example, will you be at-will, or offer longer term contracts? There are a variety of options, all with varying benefits. Make sure that you have discussed the various possibilities with legal counsel, and that your HR policies and budget are included in your staffing plan. Also make sure that you have developed sound termination policies, and included them in your employee handbook.
As an employer, it is your responsibility to ensure the safety of your students. That means doing comprehensive background checks and establishing policies on issues like the prevention of sexual abuse.
The process for staff evaluations should be aligned with your termination policies and staff handbook. They should also reflect your organization chart and hierarchy. Evaluation procedures will vary for leadership, teachers and classified personnel. Though there are variations across schools, most evaluation procedures include similar steps (e.g. goal setting, observations, review).
Your payscale should mirror that of your authorizing district. You can find the salary schedule for your authorizer through the Education Data Partnership (Ed-Data). You want to offer competitive plans to ensure that you can recruit a top quality talent. That said, you should be aware that many new schools open without their full operating budget, as their funding reflects initial enrollment. This means that many schools open with new teachers, or teachers that are committed to the vision of program. You should also make sure that your job descriptions reflect who you will be positioned to hire. Many schools hope to bring on experienced teachers, only to find that their salary requirements may not be fiscally viable over the first few years of operation.
An employee handbook lays out policies, procedures and your expectations for staff. This will lay the foundation for workplace culture and, at least in part, the culture of your school. Your handbook should address grounds for termination, hiring procedures, information on salaries and benefits, grievance procedures and workplace culture. Here is a sample handbook to review, which illustrates what schools usually include. The employee handbook should serve as an introduction to your school for your staff. What are all of the things that they will need to know, and the things that are unique to your program?
Your charter petition should include a comprehensive plan for professional development (PD). Meaningful PD is a final component of cultivating a happy, engaged, and effective staff. It can also go a long way towards building a healthy school culture. As with many of the operational pieces of opening a school, there is no single way to deliver professional development. Cost and the PD itself will vary widely depending on the scope of services you are looking for, and the number of staff engaged. To help meet your professional development needs, check out our events calendar for upcoming in person, or online sessions, and review our lists of mentoring programs and opportunities for leadership development. Your ability to develop your own professional development program is a major advantage to operating as a charter school.
Operations & Facilities
Readying for Opening Day
From making purchasing decisions to readying your facility, there are a lot of operational details to complete before your school can open. This section provides you with helpful advice and resources on essential purchases, food service set-up, transportation planning, technology planning, and facility readiness.
Purchase the Supplies You Need
At this point, you are likely authorized and have set a date to open. Now it is time to outfit your school to make sure you are ready for opening day. Before beginning to purchase supplies, it is critical to ensure that your school has the right types of procedures in place to make sound purchasing decisions. In coordination with CCSA Charter Advantage partners and Vendor Members, CCSA has developed a Purchasing Guide to assist, including the following:
- Overview of purchasing best practices, explaining the Total Cost of Ownership
- Purchasing Policy template
- School furniture checklist and quantity calculator
- School safety guidelines and top selling safety items
- Establishing a school bookroom
- Physical education purchasing guide
Set Up Your Food Services Plan
While not required to provide food services, many charter schools choose to provide breakfast and lunch to their students. Schools can seek reimbursement for providing these services under the Child Nutrition Program. The California Department of Education (CDE) publishes reimbursement rates and descriptive information about the program.
There are CCSA Vendor Members that provide food services to charter schools. Shop around for the services that meet your needs and price point. Request samples, menus, and an explanation of how they will staff and provide services in your facility.
If you do provide food services, there are a number of nutrition and reporting requirements. You can read more about those requirements in Managing Your USDA-Compliant Foodservice Program. Check with your back office provider to see if they can help with compliance.
Plan for Transportation
Providing general transportation is optional for charters. Some charters enter into contracts with their local school district or private companies to provide transportation. For students with Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) that require transportation, transportation should be provided in accordance to the arrangement with the district or Special Education Local Plan Agency (SELPA).
The use of blended learning, or other technology, can help provide the accommodations that students need to access your curriculum more effectively. You should consider the infrastructure that technology requires, as not all facilities will be equipped to handle the technology that you envision. Additionally, your school will be required to give all students online assessments over the coming years due to the Common Core State Standards mandates. Making sure that your students are comfortable with technology, and your building is equipped to meet state requirements will only become more important in the future. Learn more about E-Rate funding for technology, and take a look at a sample technology plan. Note that securing E-Rate funding requires early planning as deadlines may start as early as February of the year you open.
Preparing Your Facility for the First Day of School
Once you have found the right facility, you will need to get it ready to serve students. To do so, you will need to:
- Make sure to obtain a Certificate of Occupancy or Temporary Certificate of Occupancy before moving into the facility.
- Submit the Certificate of Occupancy to the authorizing district (if required).
- Make sure all of the building systems are operating properly--plumbing, electrical, heating and cooling for example.
- Finalize traffic analysis--including drop-off and pick-up locations for students.
- Prepare a parking plan which identifies parking stalls for teachers, staff, and school visitors.
- Confirm that all required insurance policies are in place and premiums are paid.
- Comply with mutually agreed upon facilities related terms included in the charter's petition.
- Finalize your lease or facilities use agreement and obtain a copy with the landlord's/district's signature.
- Comply with all terms and conditions of the lease or facilities use agreement--for example provide the landlord/district with copies of insurance policies if required.
- Ensure that the learning environment is safe, clear, functional, and comfortable.
- Ensure that an adequate safety procedure/crisis plan is in place (here's a sample).
If renovations are necessary, additional steps are required. You will need to ensure that your plans are reviewed by the appropriate authority or agency, engage a licensed contractor, develop a construction schedule that is aligned with the start of the school year, and hire a qualified project manager to ensure the success of the project. CCSA Vendor Members may be able to provide some of these services.
Implementing Your Academic Plan
Once you have your faculty team in place, you will need to ensure that you are prepared to meet the diverse needs of your students. This includes the assessments, timelines, structures, and processes detailed in your petition. You will also need to develop a Local Control and Accountability Plan, updated annually, that will establish performance goals for all of the children that you serve and align with the Common Core State Standards.
Cultivating a strong and positive school culture takes time and consistency. While there is not a uniform culture that works for all schools, there are some universal principles that have been adopted by many successful programs. Elements of your school culture may be outlined in handbooks for your school community. Find sample handbooks in the CCSA Charter School Resource Library.
Daily School Life
Finalizing your school day schedule and implementing your curriculum are the most important logistical steps for your day-to-day operation. Remember that your operational plan and the description of your educational program in your charter petition should be aligned. A sample course catalog is is a great way to introduce your program to prospective families and to adapt the more general outline in your petition into something tangible. Think about other things that can build a strong sense of school community, like assemblies, and before and after school programming.
It is also critical to ensure that all of your students have access to your program in its entirety. Implementing your plan for special populations means familiarizing yourself with all of the services that special populations require. For example, students that are English Learners and students receiving Special Education services may require accommodations to take advantage of all you offer.
If you will be receiving Title 1 funding, you will also need to develop a Local Education Agency Plan.
All students whose home language is not English are required to take the CELDT test within 30 days of enrollment. To identify students that will be required to take the CELDT, you should provide all students with a Home Language Survey once you open (many schools include this in their enrollment packets). Once you have identified your English Learner (EL) students, you will need to implement the plan to serve them. This should be outlined in your charter petition. To be most successful, develop a clear plan for serving EL students that includes which staff member will be responsible for assessment, re-classification, monitoring, communication, instruction, and ensuring that staff serving English Learners are properly credentialed and trained.
As with English Learners, make sure you have a comprehensive plan that includes which staff member will be responsible for assessment, re-classification, monitoring, communication, instruction, and ensuring that staff are properly credentialed and trained. Please review our Toolkit: Special Education Mandates and Procedures for serving special education students to ensure that your plan is complete. Depending on the understanding you reach with you authorizer, you may be recruiting your own special education team. CCSA has developed a Service Provider RFA Rubric, and a database of qualified service providers to help you find providers that are prepared to meet the needs of your students.
Implementing an LCFF Accountability Plan
The Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) was a major restructuring of school finance that delegates greater accountability to schools. Under the LCFF each school must create a Local Control and Accountability Plan (LCAP). Your LCAP is an achievement plan aligned to the Eight State Priority Areas as defined by Education Code Section 52060(d). Your accountability plan (performance goals, analysis and role delegation) must reflect what you have included in your charter per Education Code Section 47606.5.
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