May 4, 2020

Dear Lab Community,

Thank you for your support over the past seven weeks of distance learning, social distancing, and coming to grips with the economic impact of the pandemic. We know that everyone has many questions about what the School is planning for the end of year, summer, and the fall. While our plans are still taking shape as we glean more information every day about the coronavirus and its impact on how schools will need to be responsive, we write today to share our priorities and considerations that we are taking into account as we work through every decision.  There is no doubt that the presence of the virus has significantly affected every aspect of school management.

Fiscal Health
At no time in the past has the Board of Trustees’ charge to steward the fiscal health of the school been so critical. To that end, the Board of Trustees has been working closely with the school’s leadership to develop a full understanding of the school’s resources and risks. A Board task force will coordinate the Board’s leadership. This entails a continuous review process of our priorities, current shortfalls in the budget, projected increased costs for 2020-21 school year, and solutions for mitigating the impact of these conditions. Such an undertaking in the midst of the greatest ongoing volatility in our world has required the development of many scenarios and contingency plans. 

Faculty and Staff
Protecting the school’s most vital resource-the faculty and staff-has been at the forefront of the discussions. As you know our faculty and staff are highly trained experts in the education of students with learning differences and not readily replaceable. The promise of our mission requires us to have the lowest teacher to student ratio of area independent schools. Lab’s personnel costs are the largest expenditure in our yearly operational budget (73%), a much larger percentage than most schools. Fortunately, Lab has received a Small Business Administration Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan of $3.1 million that has kept our entire staff of 200 employees fully compensated during the crisis this spring. The loan also allows us to apply funds to health insurance, benefits and other specified expenses. We know that like Lab’s reputation for excellence in the old “normal”, the success of our learning distance program was borne from our faculty and staff; we can ill afford to be without them at this critical juncture or when we enter the new “normal.”

Community and Financial Assistance
In addition to prioritizing our staff and faculty, we are focused on our students and families. In addition to building out successful distance learning for students, we have initiated support groups for parents to address the academic, social, and emotional impact of at-home learning and socializing. We have granted emergency financial aid through our standard application process to a number of families and we expect this need to further increase. To the best of our ability, we want to ensure that every family can afford to re-enroll their child for the 2020-21 academic year. Our admissions and communications staff quickly created a virtual admissions process, including admissions “sessions” and online materials, which has already been successful in attracting new families. Admissions is also holding virtual events to help our newly enrolled families with the transition into Lab. Our goal is to reach full enrollment at 376 students through retention and recruitment outreach.
Budget Considerations
For Lab, tuition is the greatest source of income; however; as is the case with most independent schools, tuition alone does not cover the cost of educating the students. Lab has only a small endowment that contributes a yield of just over $100,000 to the annual budget of $25,000,000 and that yield will likely be compromised in this Covid-19 market. The School’s other sources of income are also registering losses. The shift to online learning has had a significant impact on the projected income from psychology, speech and language and occupational therapy services. With summer program plans uncertain, we are anticipating a potential decline in revenue here as well. Lab is facing a loss of income from auxiliary programs that can no longer operate as anticipated-athletics, after school programs, and shuttles. The administration has made every effort to cut expenses to mitigate the impact on this year’s budget. 

As one might expect, we also anticipate a shortfall in expected donations to The Lab School Fund and other fundraising initiatives as some of our supporters are experiencing dramatic changes to their financial health. We are forecasting a notable impact on our ability to meet our annual fundraising goals for this year and next. Fundraising income is 5% of our annual operating budget. We are hopeful that those in our community who are in the position to give will help to get us closer to the goal. You will soon hear more about our planned week of giving May 18-22, #KeepDragonstogether. We hope for your support in ensuring we can provide additional financial assistance to our families and meeting our other budget needs.

Looking Forward

Planning for 2020-21
In recent weeks, we have turned our attention to imagining scenarios for the 2020-21 school year. Taking into account the predictions and recommendations of the medical experts, our school nurses, independent school associations, and government officials, we believe it prudent to develop contingencies for the fall. We know that whatever we finally determine to be the school model for the fall, it will have financial implications that will require close study. 

Fall planning will be guided by the needs of our students. We will be incorporating lessons learned from distance learning this spring, upgrades to our technology, and professional development support for our faculty and staff to augment our teaching and community culture whether we will be together in person, virtually or a combination of the two. As always, we look forward to delivering an education that will meet the standard of excellence on which Lab’s reputation rests.

Over the next several weeks, as modeling options are considered, we will continue to be in close communication with our incoming head of school Kim Wargo to ensure a smooth transfer of leadership on July 1.  Kim is already well informed through her regular contact with both of us, as well as Associate Head of School Diana Meltzer and board members. Moreover, Kim has been involved in similar discussions at her current school, Isadore Newman School, which will help to make the transition of leadership more seamless. We look forward to welcoming Kim and her family to D.C. in mid-June.

End of Year Celebrations
As this school year draws to a close, we are busy designing virtual celebrations for our students. With assistance from PALS, parent representatives from the senior class have joined with the high school administrators to fete the Class of 2020 with home deliveries of swag, food, and Class of 2020 lawn signs. Plans for a virtual graduation are well underway. There is still some hope for some live encounters albeit with provisions for social distancing for the events leading up to graduation. The respective divisions are putting together the end of the year recognition ceremonies, and photos and videos are being collected to create memories for all students. It is a distinct advantage to have such a creative faculty and staff at times such as this.

Parent Survey
We wish to thank all the parents who answered our recent survey questions on distance learning; we received 170 responses. We will be sharing the remarks and suggestions with the divisions and departments. A large majority of parents had positive comments about the virtual face time with faculty and clinicians, the frequency of communication, parental support sessions, and the caliber of the lessons. Students’ transition to distance learning varied from difficult to relatively easy with a sense that over the weeks everyone was more accustomed to the routine. Besides overwhelming kudos for the faculty, clinicians, and division administrators, there was an overwhelming number of families whose only wish was to be back on campus. 

In Closing
We, too, share that wish. We want to assure you that we understand that an independent school education for our students is not a luxury but rather a necessity. It is our great privilege to be delivering this education to your children. We are committed to securing Lab’s sustainability for the duration of the coronavirus crisis and beyond. Together we have made a successful shift mid-year and no doubt, we will accomplish the same throughout the next academic year.

We will continue to share updates on our planning; we respect that families will need information in a timely manner to coordinate the Lab model and calendar with potential changes in their own work and childcare situations. To that end, we intend to communicate in the next couple of weeks about summer school plans. In the meantime, take care and stay well.

Bill Tennis' signature
William J. Tennis
Chairman of the Board of Trustees

Katherine Schantz
Head of School