Starting a School

Starting a New Montessori School
http://www.montessori-namta.org/NAMTA/administrators/startsch1.html

This section is written with the understanding that NAMTA is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting, or other professional service. If legal advice or other expert assistance is required, the services of a specialized professional should be sought.

For more detailed information on school start-up and operations, see our publication The Whole-School Montessori Handbook.

1. Organizational Roots

All schools must consider the following steps in building an organization appropriate to their purpose:

Study Groups

Build vision with parent study groups through Montessori book discussions (to establish founding principles).

Parent Advisory Board

Establish a parent advisory board composed of people with expertise in the following areas: financial, legal, site selection, management, Montessori teaching, etc.

Incorporation

Establish incorporation to limit liability in the case of lawsuits, present a stable image, extend the life of the school beyond the founder, and provide an insurable entity for the school. An attorney should be consulted.

For-Profit (sub-chapter S organization) status allows for specific ownership of the resources, profit-making, and liquidation of resources for profit. The owner has complete control, with the parents taking the role of consumers.

Not-for-Profit status allows for federal and state tax-exempt status (including sales tax and property tax exemption), solicitation of tax-deductible gifts, and solicitation of gifts from foundations. It also helps when enlisting volunteer help from the community. Some not-for-profits operate as parent cooperatives, with parents of enrolled children making up the majority of the board. Others have a board made up of members appointed by the founding head of school, apart from the parent community.

Sole Proprietorship requires no incorporation and no systematic representation of procedures and resources. Because of increasing liability of schools, a sole proprietorship carries more risk and should be well insured.

A Not-for-Profit Foundation may be established by a for-profit, under strict legal supervision. The not-for-profit foundation supports the for-profit to provide fundraising capability.

Insurance

Acquire insurance protection against business interruption, liability, boiler malfunction, building casualties, etc. Work with a local broker.

Local Requirements

Check requirements of local social and health services, building and zoning, health record-keeping, class size, food service, fire code, building code, and teacher-student ratios.

2. Site Selection

The Classroom

An ideal Montessori classroom is sunny and airy but draft-free, with low windows, a tile or wood floor, and about forty square feet per child. Ideally, washrooms are located just off the classroom with child-sized toilets and low sinks. Classrooms are often finished with acoustical ceiling tile and curtains in cool pastels. Child-height water sources and drinking fountains are nice features, along with low light switches. A separate entrance with a cloakroom, plus an adjacent teacher office and storage space, are characteristic of classrooms built for Montessori. Even in large schools, modular classrooms open up to individual outdoor spaces, with interior alcoves and discrete spaces which help create a “house for children” atmosphere.

Square Footage

Classrooms generally consist of approximately 40 square feet per child with both carpeted and wet space with sinks in the room. Wet space is usually about 400 square feet to accommodate lunch.

Furniture

Furniture styles are varied in design. Tables can have different shapes, including rectangles, squares, ovals, trapezoids. Chairs should be matched to table height, which varies according to the age level of the class. Shelving, whether painted or natural wood, should be light in color, child-sized, and not in excess of eight inches wide for easy access.

Outdoors

Enriched outdoor environments include a natural habitat and adjacent gardening and activity space for each classroom. Pick-up/drop off traffic access, benches for waiting children, child-sized picnic tables, and safe playgrounds are other aspects to consider.

Rental Space

Rental space for the classroom is frequently obtained from schools, churches, park buildings, community centers, apartment complexes, private school buildings, nursery schools, and estate mansions. When renting, consider the availability of additional space for expansion at the same site. Look closely at tenants with whom you may have to coexist. Try to obtain a lease with at least one year’s notice for cancellation, with opportunity for alteration of the building and some protection against major capital expenses (roof, furnace, asbestos removal, etc.) and a long-term arrangement with specified rent levels (three to five years).

Local Regulations

Review the site, keeping in mind zoning, fire, and health regulations, before finalizing classroom design. Panic bars, exit lights, fire alarm pull stations, fire exits, and safety plugs are details which may be overlooked and then cause cost and inconvenience later.

3. New School Capital Budget

The following are capital budget items—those expenses which deal with furniture, fixtures, and non-consumable Montessori hardware. The costs listed are estimates established in 1996. For the operating budget, consult the next section on Finances.

Montessori Apparatus

Preschool or Elementary $17,000-$25,000 (for one classroom).

Practical Life

Preschool $550-$880—equipment for washing, pouring, polishing, food preparation, eating, etc. (per classroom).

Furniture

Preschool or Elementary $3,000-$4,000—includes chairs, tables, and bricks and boards to build shelving (per classroom).

Office Furniture and Equipment

Budget $700-$3,500. Much equipment is available used, but options such as a computer or laminator can be very expensive.

Books

Budget $500-$1,000 per class. There is nothing like beautiful books, although used books are sometimes better than new.

License and Occupancy Fees

Budget $500-$1,000 per class.

Building Repair

Refurbishing a classroom depends strictly on the condition of the site and the standards of the school. It always represents some expense.

4. New School Operations Budget

The following is a sample budget for a starting school.

Program Revenues:

Operational Income

Tuition and Fees
Application Fees

Net Fundraising Income

Garage Sale, Auction, etc.

Restricted Capital Income

Security Deposits (Parents pay a deposit of $200-$300 to commit to a three-year enrollment cycle. The deposit is refunded at the end of the cycle or forfeited if the child does not complete the cycle.)

Program Expenses:

Program Related

Salaries
Payroll Taxes
Fringe Benefits
Professional Development
Books
Supplies
Services

Administrative

Postage and Printing
Insurance
Equipment Maintenance and Repair
Returned Security Deposits
Miscellaneous

Institutional (Space-Related)

Mortgage (or rent)
Utilities
Maintenance and Supplies

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