Shared Calendar = Less Conflict
Editor’s note: While this article references church-school relationships, congregational leaders will find that it relates to any number of church partnership relationships, especially when it comes to shared spaces.
The parish Bible Study group organizes a longed-for a silent retreat – and requests the same Saturday as the all-school Family Carnival.
The head of school informs the rector that the pre-kindergarten class is over-enrolled and the school needs an extra classroom. The choir room is suggested as an option.
The kindergarten classroom is used for church school, which is taught by parish volunteers. The kindergarten teacher arrives on a Monday morning to find the block city that students had been working on all week has been taken down and the blocks scattered.
A group of longtime parishioners approach the rector during coffee hour, visibly upset. A number of pew cards are covered with drawings and doodles, apparently by students during school chapel.
Although Episcopal churches and schools are natural missional partners, the different purposes and pace of school and parish life do not always make a natural marriage.
The planning cycles of parishes and schools could not be more different. The seasons of the church year drive the cycle of parish life, while schools are organized around the academic calendar. Financially, parishes operate in a January-December time frame while schools normally follow a July-June fiscal year. Parishioners and parish employees may arrive or depart at any time of the year, but students and teachers begin and end their service only at designated times of the year. These are just a few reasons it’s easy for schools and parishes quickly to become “out-of-sync” with one another.
A month-by-month church and school calendar that notes critical events and decisions, along with a well-understood process to seamlessly schedule shared spaces, are two tools that can make the difference between a collaborative relationship and a rocky one.
Budget and Finance
Because schools and churches operate on different fiscal years, their respective budgets are drafted and approved at different times in the year. Churches usually adopt their budgets one or two months in advance of January 1. Schools, on the other hand, set tuitions and salaries and adopt the annual budget six months in advance, typically in January or February for July 1.
Annual revenue streams and cash flow patterns of schools and churches are also quite different. Schools charge a fee-for-service via an enrollment agreement and bill tuition in advance. This “pre-paid tuition” must be carefully booked and accrued over the course of the school’s July 1-June 30 fiscal year. Churches, on the other hand, rely primarily on voluntary contributions that are expended on a calendar-year basis between January and December.
In the absence of well-timed discussions, the vestry and/or school board will be blindsided by unbudgeted expenses or reductions in revenue.
The annual board and vestry calendars can identify a specific time of year, most often in in the fall, when the appropriate school and parish leaders meet to discuss any items for the upcoming fiscal years that may affect their respective financial positions. Ideally, these discussions are scheduled such that any necessary approvals or agreements can be secured in a timely way. The calendars should also include a regularized review of shared expense allocations or agreements, coordinated with each fiscal year
Discussions/Decisions Requiring Vestry Approval/Involvement
The bylaws of both separately incorporated and non-separately incorporated parish, cathedral, and seminary schools normally note any number of decisions that require the vestry’s consultation or approval, such as ratifying the annual slate of school board members, approving the school’s annual budget and audited financial statements, or approving certain types of changes to or use of the physical plant.
The school’s board calendar needs to be mindful of these approvals. Some schools find it helpful to schedule school board meetings one or two weeks in advance of vestry meetings so that school board and vestry agendas can accommodate required approvals or discussions.
Space and Physical Plant
As with budget and finance, parish and school leaders should have well-timed conversations about any proposed changes to shared space or physical plant that will impact one another’s programs or budgets so that changes can be planned, approved, and budgeted in a timely way.
For instance, the school may propose a change to the physical plant that requires vestry approval, or the parish may be exploring a new outreach ministry that could potentially impact a space used by the school. Critical "touch points” during the year should be noted on the annual vestry and board calendars, such as a preliminary conversation in the late fall to share any potential changes, followed by a spring meeting to confirm the school’s summer construction projects as well as any mid-year needs that may have arisen at the parish.
In addition to major changes to space use, it’s important to have an effective and predictable process for the day-to-day use of church and school spaces. Something as simple as tables not being returned to their original layout, a room left untidy, or two groups with their hearts set on using the same space at the same time can create new wounds or open old ones about the degree to which the parish or school is respected by their missional partner.
Many parishes and schools designate “church space,” “school space,” and “shared space.” Church or school programs take priority in their respective, designated spaces and it is understood by both parish and school staff and volunteers that scheduling any new event requires the permission of (or negotiation with!) the “primary user.”
For spaces used by both the church and school (known as “shared space”), an annual calendar can be pre-populated with all of the ongoing programs and “normal use” events for the year. A church-school calendar meeting in February and then again in June or September to schedule the programming and major events in shared spaces can be enormously worthwhile.
Then, create a clear process for submitting and approving any new requests for use of shared space. An event planning sheet submitted at least two weeks in advance and approved at church staff meetings (if attended by the head of school or preschool director) or at a weekly or bi-weekly calendar meeting will avoid many a train wreck. Approved copies can then be sent to the parish and school offices. Or a shared online calendar can be created and maintained, with new requests noted a particular color until formally approved.
The NAES “Sample School Board Calendar”
The National Association of Episcopal Schools’ “Sample School Board Calendar” incorporates critical touch points for the board and vestry and can be modified by each school to fit its needs. Ideally, each summer the head of school and executive committee (on which the rector normally sits) develop the board calendar for the upcoming year, paying attention to major operational and strategic items that will need the vestry’s involvement. The vestry can do the same for any of its agenda items that may involve or impact the school. The rector and head can then coordinate the two calendars to identify touch points for the coming year.
The “Sample School Board Calendar” calendar can also serve as a working guide for those parishes and schools seeking to evolve a small school committee into a larger and more fully-functioning school board; or help new rectors, heads of school and early childhood directors, trustees, and vestry members to better understand their respective roles and responsibilities.
Developing well-coordinated church-school calendars at both the vestry-school board and day-to-day levels can go a long way to insure a smooth the church-school relationship and avoid the most common shared life train wrecks that inevitably place the strength, vitality, and good will of both school and parish at risk.
Does your congregation share space or resources with another group? Perhaps groups within your congregation share space or other resources. When was the last time you met with leaders of that group to review your agreements and/or share calendars. Scheduling time to meet periodically to review your agreements, calendars, or other practical matters can be a good way to minimize the ‘train wrecks’ Ann refers to.
Ann Mellow is associate director of the National Association of Episcopal Schools (NAES). From 1995-2007 Ann was head of school at St. Luke’s School in New York City, a pre-kindergarten – grade 8 parish day school founded by The Church of Saint Luke in the Fields.
Founded in 1965, NAES is a voluntary membership organization of over 400 Episcopal schools from preschool through secondary school. NAES provides services, resources, and best practices related to Episcopal school identity, leadership and governance, and spiritual and professional development. Learn more at www.episcopalschools.org.
- "Calendaring" by Brendon Hunter, ECF Vital Practices Vital Post
- “Can Planning Dazzle” by Richelle Thompson, ECF Vital Practices Vital Post
- NAES Sample School Board Calendar - see link to pdf at end of this document
- “The Church-School Relationship: Shared Spaces and Expenses,” an NAES webinar, November 17, 2015. For more information or to register, click here.
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