What Do Students Know About the Independent School Business Office?

This student learned what the business office really does and then surveyed fellow students to see if they understood the extent of the work.

Mar 26, 2024  |  By Sadie Kaplan, Westside Neighborhood School

From the March-April 2024 Net Assets Magazine.

daring do

Student Sadie Kaplan came forward with an interest in writing about this topic, and we were delighted to publish her perspective.

When independent school students think of the foundation of a school, they immediately think of the head of school, deans, teachers and maybe a few custodial staff. Most students don’t realize that independent schools are a business — as complicated from a financial and operations standpoint as many of the larger businesses in their area. The business office plays a huge role in upholding the financials of the school among lots of other responsibilities. Students would be surprised to learn that business office staff oversee tuition payments, financial aid, payroll, insurance, accounts payable and receivable and any other school business related items.

How did I learn more about the business office? As a member of the executive board (i.e., student council) at Westside Neighborhood School (WNS), a preschool-eighth-grade independent school in Los Angeles, California, I created the first ever Student Entrepreneurial Day this past spring. Students showcased their homemade items and sold them at school. Planning this event got me thinking about how the sellers would make change when students purchased their goods. I worked with my executive board advisor, Mr. McLaughlin, who said he would request a petty cash box from the accounting office. He said it was always a challenge to figure out how much petty cash to request for a new event; we’d have to make an educated guess. During the event, students could use the cash box to exchange bigger bills for smaller bills.

student jewelry

This made me wonder where the money for school events comes from. Mr. McLaughlin explained to me that the business office at WNS is an important source of support for our executive board. Business office staff members help us manage the money we raise at fundraisers, and write checks or approve credit card purchases for materials we need. “They are very kind and understanding about working with students, who don’t always have as much experience handling money as the adults do,” said Mr. McLaughlin.

I asked many students to share their perspective on the business office. Some thought the business office planned events, field trips, assemblies or whole school activities, and others thought they just handled the school’s finances. Most were shocked to learn that only a few people work in the business office, three to be exact. Generally students believe the main responsibilities of the business office are fundraising, buying supplies for the school and helping with events.

I was surprised to learn that there are so many different departments on campus. Supporting an independent school is not a career you usually learn about, like being a doctor or a lawyer.

As I talked with other staff on campus, I came to find out that several other important staff work directly with the business office on a daily basis, such as the operations team, marketing/communications, development and events management. I was surprised to learn that there are so many different departments on campus. Supporting an independent school is not a career you usually learn about, like being a doctor or a lawyer. Something really interesting I learned is that the business office doesn’t have just one responsibility like collecting tuition, but they must multi-task and wear many different hats throughout the school year. Even though students had varied understandings of the business office, they all agreed that the business office plays a huge role and that without them, the school would not be able to run efficiently.

student e day

When I spoke with Ada Herrera, our bookkeeper, and Tanya Paxton, our business manager/payroll specialist, both of whom work in the WNS business office, I learned that their jobs are so much more complex than most students think. They manage the money, pay the utility bills and keep the campus up to date. Some of Ms. Herrera’s day to day responsibilities include weekly check runs to issue payment to vendors, paying school bills, issuing teacher/staff reimbursements, and assisting teachers and staff in making classroom or office purchases such as supplies, textbooks and furniture. She also manages and reconciles petty cash and credit card purchases. Ms. Paxton bills parents for tuition and miscellaneous items such as the ACE after school program, coordinates parent payment plans, manages financial assistance and processes employee payroll. Overall it is easy to see that their jobs are essential for the school to function.

Although the responsibilities of the business office may vary from school to school, it’s clear that the WNS business office provides quality leadership and ensures high ethical standards. Without their leadership, the school would not run smoothly. Ms. Herrera reported that her favorite part of the job is “the environment I get to work in. Not only are our facilities beautiful, but seeing the kids walk around campus brings a smile to my face.” Ms. Paxton’s favorite part of the job is her coworkers. They are both able to juggle the day-to-day financials while being a positive part of the school community. I’ve encouraged my fellow students to stop by and say hello the next time they walk by the business office and get to know the important people who work there. What you will learn about your school might surprise you.


Sadie Kaplan

Sadie Kaplan

Sadie Kaplan is a freshman at Mira Costa High School in Manhattan Beach, California, and an alumna of Westside Neighborhood School, class of 2023. Westside Neighborhood School is a preschool–grade 8 day school in Los Angeles, California, with about 500 students.


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