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Posted on Feb 1, 2014

Growing Pains

Growing Pains

by Tim Williams, SCSBC Director of Finance

As Christian schools grow in size, the prevailing economic wisdom argues that there are benefits that accrue from “economies of scale”. Simply put, growth makes it possible for specialization that then results in efficiency and effectiveness. These efficiencies should lead to healthier finances, less stressed staff and better learning outcomes. But are larger schools really more efficient than smaller schools?

In my work doing financial benchmarking of Christian schools I am noticing that schools with one full class per grade level are often financially outperforming schools that have multiple classes per grade. We are also noticing that as growth occurs, parents are sometimes less connected to the school community; evidenced by lower donations of both time and money.

Larger schools can often afford to have the most experienced administrators and can afford specialists in finance, development, and facilities management. Larger schools can afford to allow teachers to specialize in one subject area and have less split grade classes. Larger schools can afford to have principals without classroom responsibilities that may focus solely on administrative duties. These are all wonderful outcomes and often lead to higher morale and financial blessings. These are the potential benefits of economies of scale.

One large school superintendent in a school that has not lost its economies of scale and has maintained a high levels of community involvement said, “I feel like my role is to be the Grinch. I say no to many wonderful well meaning plans that we can’t really afford.”

The key ingredient to capitalizing on growth appears to be leadership. Leadership that refuses to lose mission focus. Leadership that is courageous and can say no. Leadership that will put structure in place to direct and protect the school. Leadership that can balance the competing priorities for funds.

When Moses was faced with growing pains, it led his father-in-law Jethro to suggest a different organizational structure. When the early church had growth pains in Jerusalem, it led to a change in structure. When the church faced persecution pains it led to a different “house-church” structure.

Perhaps a change in size, whether larger or smaller, does not have to negatively impact our mission or effectiveness. It does perhaps require organizational adaptability and strong servant leadership.

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