Charter School Boards Present Unique Opportunities for CPAs



In recent years, the accounting profession as a whole has demonstrated its belief in the importance of education and ensuring that tomorrow’s generation is prepared to confront the tech-driven careers of tomorrow. For the individual CPA, there exists a wealth of opportunities beyond the accounting industry lines which can also have a direct impact on building the CPA pipeline, specifically within the realm of K12 education.

“Schools are amazing places,” Dan Piepszowski, MPA, Senior Director, Community Leadership Detroit Regional Chamber says, “because they’re a microcosm of life and community. They go beyond just a place where kids go to learn.” Making these settings work for children and families, he adds, takes consistent planning and execution, which is why it is so important to have a dedicated and skilled board of directors to help guide our schools.

“I’ve been on a number of nonprofit boards, and they’re always looking for someone with an accounting background,” Piepszowski says. In terms of the possibilities for a CPA’s role on a school board, there are opportunities that go beyond supporting the fiscal health of the organization, he adds. “When I think about financial literacy and the opportunity to infuse it into a school’s curriculum, someone coming from the CPA or accounting space could make a real difference.”

That said, fiscal integrity in public education is extremely important. Currently, there are the three rounds of COVID-19 funding available to schools, and their boards are tasked with determining how best to be a good steward of those dollars. A lot of work is going into accounting for these dollars and making them stretch, Piepszowski explains, which could benefit from the guidance of a CPA. “This is really critical, because once those COVID dollars are gone, schools will once again to return to nimbler budgets.”  

Of course, not everyone is familiar with how charter school boards operate or assemble governance boards. “From a governance standpoint, there’s very little difference between a traditional public school and a public academy, which is often referred as a charter school,” Piepszowski says. “Likewise, from the state and federal compliance standpoint, they mirror one another.” He explains that traditional public schools and charter schools are held to the same standards, from curriculum and testing to outcomes and student security, to name a few.  

There are few key differences, Piepszowski explains, one being the process by which board members are called forth and selected to serve. To serve on a traditional public school board, you must be willing to run for public office, which can be intimidating, if not a wholly disagreeable prospect. Conversely, Charter school board members are nominated by sitting boards, vetted, and appointed by a charter authorizer. While the process is somewhat different, it is no less discerning as in the end, Piepszowski says. “Both are public servants and are charged with making sure the educational needs of Michigan’s children are met.”    

“Regardless of how one might choose to serve, to make a difference you have to be passionate and committed to making hard decisions over time,” Piepszowski adds, noting that serving on a board not geographically located in the community where you live may have its advantages and often eliminates potential for bias. “Sometimes, that’s a really good thing,” Piepszowski says, “for decision-making and strong governance.”  Finally, because of how they operate, when required, charters schools have the flexibility to make the real time changes to better serve the evolving needs of children.  

Piepszowski encourages anyone seeking to have a voice in their community, not only in education, but in diversity and equity, to consider how serving on a school board can make a measurable difference. “Particularly in finding those structural inequities that need to be bridged, including the challenge of educating children in larger, urban areas who come from communities that have been disenfranchised for years.” He adds, “This is the work – this is the most important work.”

“I can’t think of a more important issue in the State of Michigan than the education of our kids – it’s driving everything,” Piepszowski says, “and it will continue to drive where businesses locate, what our tax base is – there’s so much riding on it.”

Those interested in learning more about serving on a charter school board in Michigan are invited to reach out to Dan directly. “There’s no one-stop shop for starting the process of board membership,” he says. “I’m happy to be that contact.” He adds that, knowing so many members of other boards, he’s in a unique position to be able to point others wanting to serve in the direction where the need is greatest.

Dan Piepszowski
Senior Director, Community Leadership Development
Detroit Regional Chamber

Source: MICPA

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