Packer’s Pockets: Context and Questions
For Packer students, November represents the end of the beginning. First quarter comes to a close faster than all had anticipated, and brings with it an intensified focus on the remainder of the school year. Freshman are still amidst the transition to high school, sophomores are adjusting to the heightened workload, juniors are beginning to cope with the stress they had been warned about, and seniors are doing their best to survive while in the thick of the college process. All seem to be consumed with what will come of this year, but the administration is, among other things, consumed with sorting out what’s next.
November is also when Elizabeth Winter, Packer’s Chief Financial Officer and Chief Operating Operator, alongside division and department heads, starts working on the budget for the following school year. Though Packer students think little about the money that goes into their teacher’s salaries, field trips, or lunches, it is all a series of precise calculations and requires an intense examination of how Packer currently spends its money, and how the administration feels it needs to be revised.
Packer’s money primarily comes from three different places: annual giving, Packer’s endowment, and, of course, tuition, Packer’s largest source of revenue. Together, this gives Packer an annual budget of around forty million dollars to spend as they see fit.
In the 2017-2018 school year, 64% of Packer’s budget went towards the salaries and benefits of faculty and staff, which is understandably Packer’s largest expense. Salaries of Packer employees remain on par with that of most independent schools in the city and are not expected to increase, though it is possible that the increased costs of teacher benefits will raise this percentage.
One of Packer’s other largest expenses is financial aid. Despite Packer’s heavy reliance on tuition, they are quite generous with aid. $0.185 of every tuition dollar goes towards financial aid, an amount much higher than most independent schools in the city; the average New York City independent school spends approximately $0.12 to $0.15 of every tuition dollar.
According to Ms. Winter, who has now worked at Packer for ten years, the need for increased financial aid when she first arrived was abundantly clear, and raising it is one of the things she is most proud of accomplishing.
“What we realized is that part of our mission is to have a diverse population and there’s many ways to do that, though one of those ways is financial. We felt that we [were] really squeezing out the middle class. There were people getting financial aid who really needed it, there were people who were certainly just making it and weren’t getting any, and then you had the people who can pay without it being a problem. So we [felt] we needed to broaden this so that we [were] reaching out to more people in order to have people who fit into that middle group as well.”
Though all Packer students pay some tuition, the commendable amount of money Packer allots to financial aid allows twenty five percent of students to attend Packer with varying amounts of tuition cuts.
Financial aid and salaries alike are essential parts of Packer’s budget, and one which Packer students seem to take no issue with. However, other aspects of Packer’s spending often warrant eye rolls within the student body for their seemingly superfluous nature.
These things are usually what Packer would categorize as their “ticket items,” most notably the international trips taken during Symposium. Previously, the trip entailed taking the tenth grade throughout Spain, though the program has now shifted to have a larger service emphasis and will send students to either Greece or Peru.
The Symposium programs that take place at Packer, combined with the cost of sending the tenth graders away, has a designated budget of $500,000 dollars. Though a jarring number, Head of School Bruce Dennis feels it is entirely worth it.
“I think the value [of Symposium] is exceptional,” said Dr. Dennis. “I think the resources we spend for those things are worth every penny. One of the things that makes a great school is providing an array of unique opportunities for kids, and those things cost money. It’s easy to cut back on those programs, but [by doing so] you really weaken the school.”
While expenses on events such as Symposium or days dedicated to bonding a grade—such as Convocation, a Dean planned excursion for tenth through twelfth graders which took place in the beginning of the school year—aligns well with Packer’s mission to create “globally minded” and “empathetic” individuals, there are questions about how well funds are allocated.
While 10th Grade Dean Larissa Dzegar agrees that there is great value in allocating funds to team building and strengthening the Packer community, she did note that, “If students are spending money on things that they need for classes, [and] we’re spending money on taking them out to have a fun day, there’s a problem in our system.”
In acknowledgement of these costs Upper School Head Jose De Jesus and Dr. Dennis both stated that they ask teachers to sparingly request that their students purchase texts, though how much teachers keep this in mind is hard to discern.
Students who receive financial aid pay the same cost percentage for their texts as they do for tuition. However, this alone does not not make the cost insignificant, and their hopes that teachers are mindful when making kids purchase materials can still result in students spending large sums of money on texts.
Though a solution to excessive student spending is hard to find, one thing that all who help develop the budget wish to stress is that if a student or faculty member has a problem with how they see money being spent they should reach out to division or department heads in the community.
At first glance, Packer’s budget has seemingly little effect on the ways students live their lives; in actuality it affects many aspects of it. From the things Packer students take for granted in school to some of Packer’s more extravagant expenses, everything has a cost and an impact.