Charter's lesson plan for smart spending

When Matt Harrington graduated from NYU with a master’s degree in education and social policy, he figured he would become a data analyst crunching stats for the Department of Education. An administrative internship at P.S. 770 in Crown Heights changed his mind. Financial management—especially finding cost savings—became his unlikely passion.

“I fell in love with it,” said Harrington, now director of operations at The New American Academy Charter School. At the East Flatbush elementary school, which opened in 2013, his zeal for rooting out inefficiencies and being thrifty has produced a $1.3 million cumulative surplus—a feat given that the school lacks a corporate partner and a PTA, relying solely on per-pupil government funding.

While charter schools are known for educational experimentation, their finances are often a different story. Raj Thakkar, founder of Charter School Business Management, which consults for New American, said it is not uncommon for charters to dismiss financial management as a bit of bookkeeping. “But it’s much larger than that,” said Thakkar, who has seen schools closed for financial mismanagement. “You’re being given millions of public dollars, and there’s a lot of accountability that comes with that.”

New American is a Title I school, meaning that a large percentage of its 365 students comes from low-income households. Admission is lottery-based, with a preference for students from District 18, which includes Brooklyn’s East Flatbush, Canarsie and Brownsville. The school covers such student expenses as healthful daily snacks, field trips and enrichment programs (lunches are free because it is a city public school). It also offers scholarships to pay for the required uniforms.

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