In December, while touring a group of FEMA workers, they inquired about the group of people who looked like they were having a tailgate party. The back hatch of a nearby Jeep was up making visible a full breakfast spread...and gifts! Laughter filled the air and the group at the "party" had dirt all over their hands as they planted flowers at the entrance of the school. This is the Garden Club, a group of parents who generously give their time to literally make Antilles more beautiful. The results of their efforts can be seen all over school. Recently, I was having dinner with a group of seniors and they mentioned how nice some recent plantings looked. I shared that it was the work of parents who did this out of their love for the school. They noticed, we have all noticed, and I just wanted to thank all of the parents who have contributed to this initiative, and to all of the events we have had this year from Halloween, to the holiday program, to the movie night to Gala, and for all of the contributions that make Antilles a wonderful school. The positive ways in which you make a difference inspire me and remind me why I chose to become a part of this school community.
As we beautify, spend hours preparing for our big, annual party -the Gala- and head into the final stretch of the year, I wanted to give you an update. On March 31, FEMA will vacate the MCM which they have been renting for the past six months. Having FEMA in the MCM has generated about $150,000 and allowed us to delay purchasing a new generator to replace the one that was damaged in Irma. It has also kept the building clean and free of mold while we have had to wait for all of the insurance and FEMA assessments to be made. The building is in need of repairs that will start after graduation, including a new gym floor, ceiling insulation, and event coverage for the floor. There are other repairs as well, but the floor is the most significant.
There have been several questions about the financial situation of the school, so I wanted to take this opportunity to share some facts with you.
As an independent school, we depend on tuition to cover about 85% of the cost to operate the school for one year and fundraising to fund the gap. This is how all independent schools organize their finances, and perhaps even more unusual, in independent schools, families are expected to pay for the education their children receive before the school year even starts. We built our budget for this year expecting tuition for 493 students, and unfortunately, we have experienced about 1 M in lost tuition revenue as a result of the storms. We have not been able to reduce our operating expenses to meet this deficit because our physical plant still needs to be run - and is actually more expensive this year with hurricane cleanup, and we still need to pay our teachers, who had no interruption in their pay or benefits.
If we were only a million behind where we should be, I would be elated. Unfortunately, we also have about $800,000 in repairs that will not be covered by insurance. Our hope is that some will be covered by FEMA, but it will not be the entire amount and the time frame for payments will likely not be in this fiscal year. The sizable insurance deductible in addition to the tuition revenue deficit and uninsured projects has created a significant financial challenge for the school. At one point after the storms, we had to strategize how to meet the demands of our monthly expenses for the remainder of the year. Our board, former trustees, generous donors, and foundations have stepped up and made it possible for us to carry on and do what we love to do - educate children. We still have a distance to go before I can say that we have "recovered" from Irma and Maria, but we are staying our course and trying to maintain the things that make Antilles, Antilles. The children have endured enough. My goal is that school remains a place where they can expect to read, sing, draw, play with friends, laugh, explore, and do all of the things that happen in a normal year.
So essentially the financial equation is pretty simple. Our revenue is tuition (about 85%) and fundraising(about 15%) and our expenses are faculty salaries and benefits (about 75%) and running our academic programs, the physical plant, and our financial aid program (about 25%). There are additions to both sides of the equations like funding our school debt, insurance costs, and revenue from renting the MCM and other school facilities. Some variables we can control, but there are others that are fixed like WAPA costs, insurance costs, health insurance, just to name a few.
While we have our financial challenges and hope that more of our families return to St. Thomas, this is also an exciting time for the school. We will pick up where we were on September 6, 2017 with our strategic plan that will be a guide for the next 3 - 5 years. This year has enabled me to continue to connect with alumni who live all over the country and who confirm that there is something special and transformative about their time at Antilles. That is the story that I want to create for every child in our school today as well.
I hope this helped to give you a clear sense of the school's financial picture. If you ever have any questions, please feel free to come see me.
Hope to see you Saturday night at the Gala! I would like to end where I started - Many, many thanks to all of our wonderful parent volunteers. You make a significant difference and play an important role in the life of the school.