Eight Schools Association Convenes At PA

Phillips Academy hosted the Eight Schools Association last week in the second of two annual meetings of the heads of seven peer boarding schools. The representatives were joined by members of the Association of Business Officers of Private Schools (ABOPS) to discuss the increasingly pressing issue of financial sustainability. According to Nancy Jeton, Special Assistant to the Head of School, the meetings consisted of three major groups: the Heads of School, representatives from each Board of Trustees and the members of ABOPS, which included representatives from 21 different schools. On Thursday, the Heads of School discussed financial aid and the affordability of boarding schools, faculty issues and various environmental initiatives, said Jeton. Deerfield Academy Head of School and former Phillips Academy Dean of Studies Margarita Curtis said, “[There are] enormous pressures on our budget if you want to become need-blind and allow every student to have an extraordinary education. We’re trying to do the right thing, but we want to make sure that we can sustain.” Curtis said that although she does not know how soon it can happen, Deerfield currently has a task force exploring the possibility of need-blind admissions. The Heads also discussed the “generational needs” of faculty of various ages. “[A school] needs to support different lifestyles for different phases of life,” said Jeton. “Schools are looking for how they can best support faculty.” The Lawrenceville School Headmaster Elizabeth Duffy said she learned more about formal teaching internship programs, similar to Phillips Academy’s teaching fellowships. Duffy wrote in an email, “We’re considering reintroducing a formal teaching intern program, so it was very helpful for me to hear about the other school’s programs.” The Heads discussed environmental initiatives and progress in the physical facilities and the school curriculum. “All of these schools are scrambling to find the most effective response to the global climate crisis,” said Jeton. While the Heads were meeting, the representatives from the Boards of Trustees met separately. Oscar Tang, President of the Board of Trustees, and Peter Currie, Chairman of the Finance Committee of the Board of Trustees spoke on behalf of Phillips Academy at the meeting. According to Jeton, the Trustees talked about school governance, strategic thinking, environmental conservation and financial aid. Executive Director of the Eight Schools Association and former Hotchkiss Head of School Robert Mattoon said that the trustees debated the qualifications for need-based financial aid as well as the possibility of merit-based scholarships. On Friday, the Heads and Trustees convened and listened to a presentation by new Executive Director of the Association of Boarding Schools Peter Upham. “[Upham] mainly talked about research over the past four to five years about attitudes towards boarding schools,” said Mattoon. Mattoon said that the research showed “boarding schools have a great deal to offer and are much more accessible to families of every income strata, but the public doesn’t know that much about them.” Shortly after, the ABOPS members arrived, including Chief Financial Officers and business officers of the represented schools. “The 40 or so business officers and CFOs who are part of ABOPS meet regularly to discuss financial matters. They’ve wanted to have a joint meeting with Heads for a few years. We decided to combine the two meetings since all the Eight Schools are part of ABOPS,” wrote Duffy. Representatives from 13 additional schools of the ABOPS joined the members of the Eight Schools Association to attend a discussion of financial sustainability, which was moderated by Harvard Graduate School of Education Professor James P. Honan. Jeton said that financial sustainability addresses the questions, “Can private schools continue to exist if they need to charge tuition rates that continue to grow? How many families can afford this type of education? How much stress can be put on financial aid? What are the drivers of the financial decisions that schools make?” The topic of financial sustainability garnered attention for two seemingly contradictory reasons. The first is “strong investment returns over the past four years, until July 2007, which have led to endowments at some universities, colleges and schools of unprecedented sizes and attracted the attention of the IRS and Congress,” wrote Duffy. She continued, “On the other hand, the current market meltdown and projected demographic decline will put pressure on all of our operating budgets going forward.” Both Curtis and Jeton cited the current “credit market turmoil” and slowing economy, which affects invested endowment money, as a catalyst for the talks about financial sustainability. St. Paul’s School Rector William Matthews said that financial sustainability is an important issue to talk about because of the various expensive services and benefits that boarding schools offer, such as low student to teacher ratios. “In order to keep these benefits, we need to have money and therefore it is important to address financial sustainability,” said Matthews. “We also addressed the issue of financial sustainability in the sense of making boarding school more affordable and accessible to everyone, as currently only one to two percent of Americans can afford to go to boarding schools,” continued Matthews. After discussing the topic for three hours, the representatives were not able to make a conclusive proposition, said Mattoon. He explained that though no consensus was reached, the representatives acknowledged that all schools are facing financial sustainability issues. Mattoon continued that the group did not decide if they want to hold similar meetings on the topic in the future, or if they would rather do some collective planning.