Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Let's Talk About...Money

Well, next to politics and religion, why not?

As we approach the coming school year, many families face a difficult time when they receive their tuition contracts and their financial aid grants about whether they are going to be able to continue sending their children to PCS.  Many of our families are blessed, and don't really have to worry about that particular issue, but for some, it becomes a matter of careful calculation and weighing of priorities.  Needless to say, we believe that a quality education in a distinctively Christian environment should be high on the priority list, and for most of our families, we believe it is, which is why these decisions become even more agonizing and painful.  The fact of the matter is that the alternatives, namely the public education system, public charter schools, cyber education and home education, are not satisfactory options for most families.  Anything the government does in education is philosophically and educationally problematic, including cyber education.  Home schooling isn't a viable option for families with two working parents. 

The budget at our school is calculated down to a cat's whisker, and it is all very lean and efficient.  The end result is a per-student cost in tuition and fees that is lower than any other private, Christian school in the area that offers a fully accredited, quality education in a distinctively Christian environment from Pre-Kindergarten through twelfth grade.  The qualifiers for us are the PK-12 program, and accreditation, both of which are important.  At some other time, I'll discuss the value of full accreditation.  It is vitally important.  Academic quality here is also vitally important.  Our students have led this county in Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) scores for the better part of the last decade, and have produced a significant number of students eligible for National Merit Scholar honors.  So from a financial perspective, we are a gigantic educational bargain. 

The approximately $5,500 that is the tuition figure for a year of education is also subsidized in a number of ways.  About a third of our students attend school on financial aid, throuth EITC, Pennsylvania Family Foundation, or private contributions.  I have no doubt we hand out as much, if not more, financial aid than any other Christian school in the region.  Of course, transportation costs are subsidized by the school districts of residence.  We do receive some limited state aid for textbooks.  But there are several other ways your cost per student for attending here are made as low as possible:
  1. Our teacher salaries are significantly lower than those of their counterparts in the public education system.  Including the insurance benefit that we offer, average compensation for a teacher here is perhaps about half of what it is in the public schools, and is about 20% less than most other accredited Christian schools.  Given the level of academic achievement at PCS, and the atmosphere provided here (not perfect, but we're going to keep raising the bar!) that is a clear demonstration of commitment and sacrifice for the cause of Christian education. If we raised our teacher salary to the minimum salary level of the state pay scale, it would mean an increase of $2,200 in tuition.  So each teacher in the school is, in effect, handing each child a scholarship of that amount. It merits mutual sacrifice.  
  2. Obviously, our facility is not fancy or extravagant. But it is debt-free. We are committed to making some improvements in technology.  Otherwise, we have a roof over our heads, heat in the winter and we're proving that worn carpets, white boards and used desks and chairs are just fine for providing a quality education in a distinctively Christian environment.  What we lack in furnishings and equipment, we make up for in enthusiasm and quality of instruction. 
  3. Every family contributes a minimum of 10 hours of volunteer time per semester.  And actually, what makes that so efficient and effective, is that most families give far more time than that.  Not only that, but we have people who find other ways to help.  During the last year, we received a lot of computer equipment, including a number of laptops, because a parent observed that the company they worked for was going to upgrade.  We got a color copier from another parent for the same reason.  Office supplies, particularly paper, came in a continuous flow.  We were blessed in all kinds of ways, from straight up cash donations to services provided in-kind.  Thankfully, we have people in the school community who understand the Biblical principle that God blesses a generous and cheerful giver.
  4. There are several businesses who make our financial aid assistance work.  Through EITC, and Pennsylvania Family Foundation, 88 students are able to attend Portersville Christian School who would not be able to attend otherwise.  Considering our tuition rate, it would be difficult for them to attend any other Christian school.  That means that those families are able to exercise a choice about where their kids attend school, and they can have some peace of mind about the values and morals they are learning, and about the philosophical foundation from which they are being taught.  They know that if their kids come to school here, it doesn't solve every problem of life, but they will at least be taught things that support what their family, and their church, is also teaching them.  It is a mystery of God as to how he decides to bless the generosity of those who provide this funding, but from this side of the situation, it is most definitely seen as God's provision.  
We know that God plants a vision in the hearts of his people and directs them to support his work.  Are you in a position to be a generous, cheerful giver?  Do you have deep convictions about the work of Christian education in a school setting, and deep concerns about the direction which the public education system is moving?  Is God working to plant a vision for supporting Christian education through you?  There are families in our school who are agonizing and praying about their finances and their children's education.  If you can help, please let us know.  

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

The Battles We Fight...

Ephesians 6:12
For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. 

It probably seems odd that I chose to use this verse at the beginning of a blog post as we approach the beginning of a new school year.  But if you look at where these words are found, and the context in which they are written, it won't seem so strange.  Paul has just finished outlining an ordered Christian life.  He has spoken of relationships between believers bound together in love because of a common faith in Christ, and he gives a full picture of what that looks like, involving Christ and his church, husbands and wives, and children and their parents.  The paragraph in which this verse is located begins with encouragement for believers to be strong in the Lord.  It is followed by a passage that takes a suit of armor and uses it as an analogy for Christians as they fight spiritual battles, how to do it and what weapons to use.

It is pretty evident that a Christian school, where young people gather to be trained up in righteousness, is a spiritual battleground.  There was a time when I thought that the Bible's analogies of warfare in the spiritual realm were a little over the edge to make the point, but after thirty years in Christian education, I don't think that way any more.

The area in which we've been under attack the most has been in personal relationships.  For that very reason, the scripture theme for the upcoming school year is Romans 12:10, so that we can fight this battle with the sword that is the word of God.  We will ask our teachers and staff to use every opportunity, including those that they can create on their own, to teach our students how to love each other in Christ, and how to honor others above themselves.  This is also an area where the greater school community, including parents, can use some education as well.  We've fought a battle against gossip, selfishness and criticism that refuses to follow the principles of scripture in resolving difficulties between believers.  There were far too many occasions during the past year when information came to the administration via an indirect route, rather than by the way Christians are instructed in such matters in scripture.

We fight the battle of apathy and discouragement.  Our teachers and staff make big sacrifices in the area of time and money.  Did you know that they could be earning more than twice the salary and benefits in a public school?  But they are committed to providing students with a distinctively Christian education and environment.  When that is taken casually, either in the classroom by students who don't put forth their full effort, or out of it by families who exhibit a "take it or leave it" attitude, and don't seem to be committed to the school's mission and purpose, it is discouraging.  On the other hand, real encouragement comes by families who show their appreciation for the work being done on their behalf, continuously give pats on the back, and remain committed to helping build the school up. 

We fight the battle of financial difficulty.  The efficiency of how this school operates is amazing, and its stewardship of resources, both volunteer labor and money, is incredible.  We have a roof over our head, some relief in the summer, and heat in the winter.  We have a gymnasium and a soccer field.  Our classrooms are simple, the carpets are worn, but everything is paid for.  We produce the county's most academically achieved students, a sports program, fine arts, and a quality, distinctively education for well under half of what it costs for the public school system to provide for one student for a  year.  But things do run tight from time to time.  So we need to utilize the weapon of prayer and we need supporters of Christian education to open up their wallet and follow the example of those who exercise the spiritual gift of generosity. 

There is also a battle for the minds and hearts of our students going on every day.  The advantage they have is that their school, unlike most others, is supporting the values their parents are teaching at home and that their church is teaching them.  But they are bombarded by media messages telling them that all of this can't be right, and that if they are investing their lives in serving others in Jesus' name, they are wasting their time.  They are receiving the message that, in fact, every other philosophy of life is valid, except the Christian philosophy.  And that is very hard to fight.  The enemy works very hard to defeat our ability to counter his moves, and to cripple the school's ability to be used as a weapon.  His goal is to either render us ineffective, or keep us from operating.

The weapons are the same ones that have always been used in this battle.  Selfishness.  Greed.  Gossip and slander.  The methods have changed, with the instant information available on the internet, social networking and other technological advances in communication, but it is still the same old battle.  The most effective means of destruction is to try to get Christians to fight and turn on each other.  Younger people are very vulnerable to this.

Twice each week, I have had the privilege of a prayer time with a local pastor.  Every Wednesday and Friday morning, we pray for the school, for the churches represented, for the students, for our own families and friends.  It would be great if we had groups of students meeting together, praying for their school, for their families and for each other twice a week.  That would go a long way toward developing the kind of love for each other that Paul speaks of in Romans 12:10.  Prayer changes things.  As the school year approaches, let's change things with prayer.