A Conversation with the CFO

A transcript of a conversation between Jennifer Reamer, Manager of Annual Giving and Murl Altoft, Chief Financial Officer at Bishop O'Connell High School.

February 26, 2019

What goes into the cost of tuition?

Two thirds of the cost of running the school is teacher salaries and benefits. The next biggest factor is maintaining the physical plant and facilities.

How do you try to keep tuition low?

We are very frugal on maintaining costs of running the school. For the last two years, the percentage increase of tuition has been the lowest it’s been in 13 years. Our first priority when it comes to determining tuition is trying to manage that cost for parents recognizing how expensive it can be for working families.

Why does O’Connell need donations in addition to tuition?

We are very concerned that the cost of tuition does not become a stumbling block for families. So to keep Catholic education accessible for all, we don’t charge the full amount in tuition. This year there is a gap of at least $1,500 between the actual cost and what we charge. That gap has increased in recent years because costs have increased and we are trying to keep tuition down.

How are the donations used?

Tuition assistance is a very real need in the community. We are projected to award about $2.8 million in need-based assistance and merit-based scholarships for the 2019-2020 school year. That is the most ever. The need continues to increase each year.

Knight Fund donations allow us to dedicate more resources to the retreat program, the Project Lead the Way engineering program, athletic equipment, professional coaching for teachers...

In recent years donations to the Knight Fund have increased significantly, what types of things have you been able to do that you couldn’t do before?

Yes, we’ve seen donations to the Knight Fund double actually in the last five years. There’s a lot of generosity to be thankful for. We’ve been able to invest in a student tech support center inside the Walsh Student Technology Center. We’ve expanded our professional development program for teachers, helping them to be on top of new teaching strategies. We’ve invested in our Campus Ministry program, increasing the number and enhancing the quality of retreats offered to our students.

In the future, we’d like to invest in upgrading the auditorium for our performing arts program. They’d love to get new curtains for the stage and make additional upgrades to the sound and lighting systems. There is a growing need for a new bus. The physical elements of a school are a visible indicator of an exceptional education. When the physical plant is well taken care of, it subconsciously elevates the expectations students have for themselves.

How is financial assistance granted to families?

We engage an independent third-party organization, FACTS, to ensure the process is consistent and impartial. A five-person financial aid committee uses this data and other inputs to award aid using a common rubric for all families.

What made you want to work at Bishop O’Connell?

I was an executive in retail, in a furniture business. I’ve always aspired to work in education and I knew I wanted to be in a Christian atmosphere. I wanted the opportunity to lend my business skills to a not-for-profit organization. When I got connected to O’Connell, I liked the opportunity to make a contribution in the lives of O’Connell families. Helping families get access Catholic education is very rewarding.

What do you like about working at O’Connell?

I like getting out and mixing with the kids on daily basis. There is nothing more gratifying than walking through the halls and knowing how many students wouldn’t be able to be here if it weren’t for how hard we work to keep costs down and how much financial assistance we are able to award. Even playing a small part in that process is very rewarding. So many people contribute to the success of the school financially and vocationally. It’s a wonderful family atmosphere, a very caring community. Teachers care about students, students care about teachers, we all care about each other.

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