What makes an independent school independent?

When families send their children to an independent school, but those families did not attend an independent school, they aren’t always sure how independent schools and public schools are different, other than the fact that you must pay tuition (in addition to your taxes) to attend an independent school. There are two main differences:

Independent schools are governed independently.

Independent schools are financed independently.

Independent governance means that a group of volunteers, called “trustees,” meet regularly to ensure that the mission of the school is clear and that the mission of the school is carried out. The Board of Trustees is self-sustaining: nominating and ratifying new members to serve for a set term of service. The Board of Trustees hires a Head of School to oversee the day-to-day operations of the school. The Head of School is the Board’s only employee, and the Board is responsible for evaluating the Head, who must hire the rest of the school’s employees and ensure that those employees are qualified and evaluated. The Head is responsible for administering the academic and extracurricular programs offered by the school, in accordance with the school mission. The Board of Trustees is responsible for planning for the future of the school and for ensuring that the school has the financial resources it needs to carry out its mission. An independent school does not follow the state’s Department of Education standards of learning or any other policies, unless that school chooses to do so. Independent schools develop their own academic and extracurricular programs and may choose to be accredited by an independent school association.

Independent schools must pay their own way, through tuition, charitable giving, and alternative revenue streams, like facilities rental and summer programs. The Board of Trustees sets tuition each year, based on an operating budget that includes teacher salaries and benefits, as well as the expenses of maintaining the physical plant and providing the resources needed to carry out the program of the school. When an independent school needs to build new facilities, the Board of Trustees embarks upon on a capital campaign to raise money through charitable giving to pay for the construction of those facilities. The state does not provide financing for the running or the improvement of the school. Most independent schools seek to build an endowment that can support the operating budget with income from investments. Good financial management is essential for the sustainability of an independent school. Private schools that are affiliated with churches usually receive financial support from the church, but truly independent schools do not receive support from other institutions.

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