Building a business
Need more learning materials?
Many teachers supplement classroom supplies by paying for them out of their own pockets. The figure often quoted for public school teachers is an average of $500 a year.
The supplies can range from books, puzzles, and crayons for learning activities to batteries for electronic devices and tissues for runny noses.
Kate, a speech pathologist in the Austin Independent School District, buys popcorn for her preschoolers. “Children can’t learn when they’re hungry,” she says. Plus, serving everyone a cup of popcorn keeps the small group busy so that she can focus on an individual child.
Teachers in public and private preschools may spend far less than the average because they simply cannot afford it out of their salaries, which are some of the lowest in the country. Child care teachers have long relied on recycled items—discarded office paper, plastic containers, and oatmeal boxes, for example—for free learning materials.
Directors have assisted in buying classroom supplies in a number of ways, such as the following:
setting aside reasonable amounts for supplies in the yearly budget,
buying supplies at teacher discounts offered by retailers,
conducting fundraisers at the school,
seeking donations from parents and businesses, and
checking items on Freecyle.org.
Consider organizing your own collection drive for new and slightly used materials as well as cash contributions.
1. Identify the items you need, such as children’s books, puzzles, blocks, board games, art and craft supplies, sewing notions, fabric, yarn and knitting supplies, office supplies, manila folders, and glue, for example.
2. Secure one or more partners, such the employers of parents whose children are in your care. Ask one or more parents to serve as collection drive chair.
3. Set a five-day work week for the drive to occur. Some organizations choose a week in August before school starts, but that’s a time when many people are on vacation. Another option is late spring, the traditional time for spring cleaning and moving.
4. Announce the collection drive in cooperation with partners at least two weeks in advance. Post signs and reminders the Friday before the collection drive starts.
5. Place containers, such as large cardboard boxes, near an entrance or close to employees’ cars.
6. Have a parent or volunteer check the collection boxes daily and keep the area tidy. This person might also collect cash or checks from people who wish to contribute.
7. Arrange for the pickup of the materials and transportation to your program.
8. Send thank-you notes with children’s art work to the partners and cash contributors.
Read about a group of retired teachers in Springfield, Mass., who recycled classroom aids for teachers at the MassLive website in the article, Study: Average teacher spends $500 of own money on classroom supplies, www.masslive.com/news/index.ssf/2014/08/teachers.html.
Request your classroom needs on websites specially set up for that purpose, such as donorschoose.org, adoptaclassroom.org, and classwish.org.
Child Care Tax Credit: Reminder for parents
Remind parents that they may be eligible for receiving a credit on their federal income taxes by taking advantage of the Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit.
It’s important for parents to understand the difference between a credit and a deduction. A deduction is subtracted from your taxable income, while a credit is subtracted from the tax you owe. For example, if a parent is in the 25 percent income tax bracket, a $1,000 deduction lowers the tax bill by $250. But a $1,000 credit lowers the tax bill by $1,000.
Parents may qualify for the credit if they paid you for the care of a dependent child 12 years or younger, and they need the care to work or to find work.
For more information, refer them to www.irs.gov/uac/Ten-Things-to-Know-About-the-Child-and-Dependent-Care-Credit, or download IRS publication 503 at www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/p503.pdf.
Tips for preventing theft
In managing a child care program or preschool, you are responsible for, among many other things, protecting against theft.
The word theft in its broadest sense means stealing, taking something that belongs to someone else. In the law, simple theft or larceny includes pick-pocketing, purse snatching, check forgery, and embezzlement, which generally means that a person entrusted with an agency’s money appropriates it for personal use. Robbery is the use of fear or force to steal, and burglary is entering a building without permission with intent to commit a crime.
Fraud involves a deceitful practice, such as falsifying a document, for financial gain, property, or services. It includes credit card fraud, insurance fraud, identity theft, and scams.
A related crime is vandalism, the mindful and malicious harm and destruction to another’s property. It’s included here because you can prevent it in much the same way as preventing theft.
We all know of, and perhaps have experienced, theft-related crimes. A location in a low-crime neighborhood does not make your program safe.
Aside from the loss of money or property, theft often leaves a psychological effect: “I feel like I’ve been violated,” said one teacher, after finding her front door knocked in and computers and TV’s stolen.
Who would do this?
Almost anyone. It might be a professional thief who has been eyeing your facility, or a person off the street who happens to wander into your building. It could be someone desperate for money, like a person unable to find a job, or someone who is hungry and looking for food. It could be someone with easy access to your program, such as a parent, a vendor, an employee, or a volunteer.
Most people who steal do it because they see an opportunity and think they can get away with it. They see a door left open, or a handbag left on a desk. Some do it for the thrill of engaging in risky behavior. We tend to believe that most people are honest, but desperate circumstances and opportunity can tempt anyone.
Develop a theft-prevention plan
Most theft can be reduced or stopped, say crime experts, by removing the opportunity for it. Take a step back and look at your building and grounds from a criminal’s point of view. Where and how could someone get in without being detected?
Invite all staff to participate in developing a plan to prevent theft. Program-wide involvement from the beginning can mean greater buy-in when security procedures are in place. Staff may also offer ideas that don’t show up on your radar. Some components to consider:
Watch program. Join a watch program, such as Neighborhood Watch, which is designed to enhance security through heightened awareness and open communication between police and citizens. By watching out for each other, homes and businesses build strong community relationships and maintain a safer working and living atmosphere.
Building and grounds. Eliminate places to hide, such as thick bushes. Make sure the building and parking lot are well lighted. To save energy, choose sensor lights that come on when motion is detected. Install angled mirrors so you can see into corners. Keep fences in good repair. Train staff to lock their cars, roll up windows, and lock valuables in the trunk. Clean up any signs of vandalism and make repairs as soon as damage or graffiti appears.
Doors and windows. Check for structural integrity—no rotting wood or loose panes. Install burglar-resistant glass in windows. Secure all openings with the best possible locks. Change locks when staff with keys leave the program. Set up a system for checking that all doors are locked after everyone leaves. Lock up any outdoor equipment or tools that thieves and vandals might use to break in.
Access control. Limit the number of entrances. Many schools keep all outside doors locked except the one to the main office. Visitors may be required to show identification, sign in, and wear a name tag or badge while on the premises. Maintain strict control over who is issued keys and occasionally do an audit. Never leave keys hanging on a nail where some can take them and make copies. If keys get lost, change the locks.
Surveillance. Post prominent signs on windows saying your facility is monitored by a security system (whether it is or not). Be alert to unfamiliar visitors: Ask: “Can we help you?” Don’t allow visitors to remain alone in an office or room, and provide an escort for the visitor while on the premises.
Equipment. Record serial numbers on computers and other valuables. Place identifying marks on items that don’t have serial numbers.
Training. Train employees and volunteers in theft-prevention procedures during orientation and periodically thereafter. Warn them not to bring items of significant value, such as Mom’s pearls or large sums of cash, to work. Set up a system for accessing computers with a password. Advise staff to carry wallets and keys with them or lock them up when leaving an office or classroom.
Hire good people. In Texas, licensing requires a criminal background check before hiring people who will be present while children are in care. With regard to theft-related crimes, the rules absolutely prohibit hiring people convicted of robbery and usually require a risk evaluation for people convicted of burglary, shoplifting, or theft within the past 10 years. Check a job candidate’s references.
Personal relationships. Know your employees and volunteers well enough that you may be alert to signs of financial problems. Ask your bookkeeper or accountant for periodic reports that include payroll, taxes, income, and expenses. Ask your accountant for advice about an internal or external audit and anti-fraud controls.
Parent payment. Set up a digital method (such as PayPal) or credit card for parents to pay. If you take in a large amount of money in a single day and can’t make several trips to the bank, consider using a drop safe, which is easy to slip money in but hard to get money out without a key. Restrict the combination or key to only one or two people, and change the combination or key when the person takes another job. If you use a cash drawer, keep only a small amount, no more than $50, in it at any time.
Mail. Enterprising thieves won’t hesitate to rifle through your mail or pry open a locked mailbox. Arrange for bank statements and invoices to be sent electronically, or get a post office box and have mail addressed to it. Log and date-stamp checks and money orders received.
Banking. File blank checks, deposit slips, and banking records in a locked cabinet. Personally reconcile all bank statements with your program’s books and records. Examine all canceled checks and endorsements for anything usual. Don’t sign blank checks.
Expenses. Examine all invoices and supporting information before paying. Make sure purchased items were received and the prices reasonable. Compare receipts to accounts, and watch out for unauthorized transactions.
Identity protection. Secure all Social Security numbers you acquire in running your program. Don’t respond to unauthorized requests for personal information by phone, mail, or online. Thieves can use a Social Security number to file false tax returns with IRS and get refunds, drain your bank account, open credit accounts and run up charges, get medical services, and much more. Shred anything that contains personal information. For more on identity protection, see the Summer 2014 issue, www.childcarequarterly.com/summer14_business.html.
Remember, no theft-prevention plan is foolproof, but the harder it is to break in to your facility or steal your information, the more likely an intruder will give up and move to another setting that is less well protected.
City of Beverly Massachusetts Police Department. n.d. Business Crime Prevention, www.beverlypd.org/pdf/PRIVATE%20BUSINESS%20SAFETY%20TOPICS/BUSINESS%20CRIME%20PREVENTION.pdf.
The Law Dictionary, http://thelawdictionary.org.
The Thief. n.d. Criminal Justice School Info.com, www.criminaljusticeschoolinfo.com/thief.html.