At our P&C: Business manager

Some P&Cs provide complex services for parents which are essentially small business undertakings. What can you do when it gets too much for volunteers to manage? We spoke to several P&Cs who now employ an operations manager to oversee their businesses.

P&Cs do amazing things. Their activities extend well beyond fundraising and one-off extravaganzas like a school fete. Around 40 ACT P&Cs manage the day to day running of the canteen at their school. Even more run an in-school uniform shop. Nine have taken on the huge, but lucrative, responsibility for the school’s outside hours care program.

Parents really value having these services at the school but, as volunteer numbers drop and time pressures increase, some P&Cs are struggling to keep them running. Even where the canteen employs a paid manager to order stock and make and serve all the meals, there are many regulations to keep track of and comply with, bills and salaries to pay, menus and pricing to review, and someone needs to have an overview and keep operations on track.

Brenda Sebastian, from Campbell Primary School P&C, knows this well. Five years ago she was the P&C President and Canteen Co-ordinator.CanteenFinance

“It was nearly a full-time job,” Brenda recalls. “I used to joke that my kids were doing 30 hours of school a week, but that I was doing 35!”

“As president I was keeping an eye on everything we did, including our outside school hours care service. As canteen co-ordinator I was overseeing the detail of canteen operations as well as reworking the menu and how we ran the business – it was losing about $6000 a year at the time.”

“I thought to myself – if I wasn’t a full-time mum and prepared to do this, what would we do instead? It just didn’t seem sustainable. So I proposed an Executive Officer model and carefully wrote a job description and duty statement for a new position and the P&C endorsed the move.”

“It is now set up like a multi-faceted business, run by the paid Executive Officer and overseen by a Board of Directors. The P&C has moved from a volunteer run organisation to a volunteer led organisation. We don’t do the day to day running of the businesses. Instead the P&C is a managing Board of Directors which directs the activities of the Executive Officer.”

The Executive Officer ensures the compliance of all the P&C’s businesses. She drafts and updates policies and manages all the other P&C employees including recruiting, appointments and pay roll. She conducts stocktakes and looks after volunteer rosters.

“She works very closely with the P&C Treasurer, who approves payments, as well as the President and Vice-President,” explains Brenda.

“Our Executive Officer also looks at the big picture – what we want to do and how to do it. For instance we recently started Active Afters and the kids can do judo, dance, hockey.”

So what are the keys to success in setting up the P&C this way?

“You need to be really clear what the Executive Officer’s role is and to document what they have the authority to do, and what decisions need approval,” says Brenda.

Miles Franklin Primary School P&C use a similar model and agree that a carefully set-up and very well defined structure is essential. Selina Harman, their Business Operations Manager told us “it’s important to have clear boundaries, to understand and document who does what and who is responsible.”

“It is also important to work well, and very closely, with the P&C.”

Getting the right person for the job is obviously essential.

“You need to be very good at planning and very organised,” Selina admits. “Communication skills and a focus on customer service is also important. It is essential to have a real attention to detail, especially when it comes to ensuring the businesses comply with all the regulations. Significant office experience would be helpful.”

Brenda agrees.

“They are juggling across multiple businesses with complex regulatory requirements so they’ve got to be well organised. People who have previously managed their own businesses often have the mix of skills needed.”

So how do they afford this highly-skilled employee?

“We took a close look at our services,” Brenda explains. “It’s all about how much they are valued. Make sure the canteen sells things that people want to order. We asked how much people would pay for what they valued and discovered they’d pay up to three times what we had been charging!”

“Schools needs to get their uniform shops back,” Selina advises. “We make up to $10 profit on each item and that helps subsidise the canteen.”

Both Brenda and Selina also agree that paying the Operations Manager/Executive Officer probably wouldn’t be possible without the After School Care business, which is the most profitable.

“Our Executive Officer works 40 hours a week, with a package of around $100,000,” says Brenda. “It’s a big undertaking.”


This article is part of a series "At Our P&C..." sharing great things that ACT P&Cs are doing and appeared in ParentACTion Magazine, Term 4, 2018.