Planning a Homeschool Co-op

Faye, a homeschool mom and columnist for the DC Examiner.com, has a great list to help start a homeschool co-op (edited slightly for brevity):

Although it is wonderful to be able to plan lessons, activities and programs that best meet your child’s needs, sometimes banding together with other homeschoolers can be a huge blessing!  Planning a homeschool co-op is a large undertaking, but with some good people and a strong foundation, it can benefit you and your family in many ways. Whether you want to have a group for regular field trips, or you are looking for a way to provide some structured school time in a group setting, a homeschool co-op could be just the ticket.

If you are interested in starting your own homeschool co-op, I would like to offer some suggestions.

1.  Start with your homeschool support group and friends.  Who would be willing to help you get things started?  2-5 people is a good number for a planning group (more than that and it might seem impossible to find a time when everyone can meet!).

2.  Spend some time brainstorming about what the “ideal co-op” would be.  Would you meet once a week, or every morning?  Will the group be for just a certain age group (ie: only elementary-age)?   Do you want to offer set classes, with textbooks, tests, homework, etc?  Or perhaps something more relaxed, like clubs and projects?

3.  Once the group has ironed out a general idea of what the first year could look like, you will need to find a place to meet.  This may prove to be one of the most daunting tasks!  Try the local library or community center, a church or firehouse, or maybe even an empty business.

4.  After you have secured a space, it is time to invite homeschooling families to join you!  It can be tempting to hang up flyers and spread the word via homeschool yahoo groups and blogs.  However, a word of caution.  I have heard many, many stories about co-ops, and the one thing that resonates over and over again is the importance of having a group of like-minded people.  Now, that doesn’t mean that you all have to believe in the same things–far from it!  At our co-op, we enjoy having new points of view for the kids to consider.  However, if it is important that the co-op be Christian-based, that might not be a good match for someone who is agnostic.

5.  For your co-op to grow and thrive, people have to be willing to work together, to pitch in, and to get along.  It is an “army of volunteers”, and if the adults/kids don’t get along, the co-op will suffer and perhaps never get off the ground.

6.  Once you have a location and a few families have indicated interest–YEAH–you are in business!!  Meet with your planning group and decide what classes/clubs/projects you want to offer.  Some ideas to choose from:

  • Art/drawing
  • Science
  • History
  • Foreign language
  • Physical education

7.  Finalize which classes you will offer, decide on a start date, then work out registration details and fees.  If there is a fee to use your facility, all families will need to divide that expense. Many facilities will also want you to carry a separate insurance policy (for one local co-op, it is @$35.00/family/year.)

8.  Do an Internet search to find forms you may need/want to have (registration, emergency info, family info, student info, etc.)  The planning group can share these tasks so no one person feels burdened.

9.  Plan a park day for families to meet, get everyone registered, order your materials, and you’re on your way!

10.  You might also consider getting a website set-up exclusively for your co-op.  Homeschool-Life.com offers a low/no-cost website service for homeschoolers, and it allows you to have group registration, to use message boards, to provide event reminders, etc.

11.  Be sure that everyone who chooses to participate is willing to help with some aspect of the group, whether it is teaching a class, cleaning up, watching the little ones, or helping as needed.  “Many hands make work light” is certainly a true statement when it comes to a homeschool co-op!

12.  Resist the urge to “do everything” in your first year.  It will be tempting to do this, believe me!  Try to offer just a few things to the group (no more than four).  See how that works out, ask for feedback, and your group can grow from there.

It is a tremendous amount of work to get a co-op up and running, but the rewards cannot be overstated.  As the group grows and expands, your kids will have incredible opportunities for learning, friendships, and fun!  If you have experiences with, or suggestions for a homeschool co-op, please share them in the “comments” section below.  I am sure there are many good ideas right here in our own community!HSCo-opsCover

Faye might be right that it is work to start a homeschool co-op, but there is help.  My book Homeschool Co-ops: How to Start Them, Run Them and Not Burn Out will walk you through the start up and  running your group.

Also my website www.HomeschoolCPA.com has many helpful articles on starting a group, getting a checking account and buying insurance.

You can do it! Just get some help from those who have gone before you!

Carol Topp, CPA

Pictures from Virginia Homeschool Convention

I was excited to be invited as a speaker to the Home Educators Association of Virginia (HEAV) 2009 convention. I spoke on leading a homeschool group, having a family budget, micro business for teenagers, 501c3 tax exempt status and being a WAHM (Work at Home Mom).  I also talked to dozens of homeschool leaders, parents and teenagers that stopped by my booth.

My booth to meet and greet homeschool leaders from Virginia, Maryland, West Virginia and surrounding states.

IMG_7655

My booth helper, friend, co-op member and fellow WAHM (Work at Home Mom), Katy Daum (tall one on the left) and me in front of our booth.

IMG_7656

At the Leaders lunch with Exhibit Hall Coordinator, Tammy Bear (left), an extraordinary, organized, lovely lady!

IMG_7653

I met my virtual friend, Janice Campbell (right) of Everyday Education, in person. She had a lovely booth.

IMG_7663

The Exhibit Hall at HEAV. I was also pleased that Paul Suarez from The Old Schoolhouse (the next aisle over) stopped by my booth.

IMG_7662

What a great weekend.  I enjoyed meeting so many homeschool parents, teenagers and leaders.

Carol Topp, CPA

Carnival of Homeschooling

The latest Carnival of Homeschooling is up at Principled Discovery.  She has chosen a field guide  to homeschoolers as her theme “to attempt to describe this fascinating specimen of educational freedom and gain a greater understanding of its habits, habitat and daily life.”  Very clever and lots of good posts on homeschooling.

My post on insurance for homeschool groups is there.

Carol Topp, CPA

Milestone: Graduation Day for my first born!

Today, my first born , Emily, will graduate from high school.  this is quite a milestone in her life and mine.  12 years of homeschooling! It’s been a privilege and an honor.  I’ve lea093rned so much by homeschooling her, and of course she has learned a lot, too!

I won’t say it’s been pure joy, bit it comes close. 3rd grade was pretty rough with lots of phone calls to the “principal” (my husband at work) about her stubbornness.  Put two type A, opinionated people together and you’ll have some conflict.  But in the end we are so much closer for working it out instead of giving up. High school has been great. It is fun and exciting to see her grow and develop.

Congratulations Emily! Your dad and I are very proud of you.

Carol Topp, CPA

Three kinds of insurance for homeschool groups

030429_1897_5028_xsmsCarol,

We were told by our host church that we’ll need our own insurance policy.  Can you look into that for us?

Beth S, Ohio

(I am a volunteer parent in this homeschool organization)

This homeschool group had been told by the pastor of the church where they would start some homeschool classes twice a week that they their own insurance policy.

So they need their own insurance.  But what kind? In talking to a helpful insurance agent, I learned there are at least three types of insurance a homeschool group could possibly need:

General Liability (sometimes called fire insurance).  It covers the property an organization owns or rents.  This is what the church is wanting from our group in question.  They want an insurance policy if our group damages their property.  Someone suggested that we ask the church to add our group as a rider.  It might be cheaper.  Or, it was suggested, we should get “event” coverage. It might be cheaper since we don’t meet every day in the church.

Accidental Medical coverage.  This is for coverage if a child hurts him or herself while at our homeschool function.  Since we don’t have gym classes or physical activities I think my group will skip this type of insurance.  We’ll probably get the parents to acknowledge that they will cover their children’s medical expenses.

Director and Officer insurance: This is to protect the leaders from being personally sued for liability.  The agent said these policies start at $1,000/year.  Yikes!  He said it is because it includes provisions for employee s*xual harassment, etc.. Because of the expense to the organization, some non-profits board members carry their own liability insurance.  Personal liability insurance, sometimes called an umbrella policy, can be purchased separately.  Our group doesn’t have employees (or a very large budget) and so I think that we’ll forgo the D&O insurance, also.

Carol Topp, CPA

How Much to Keep in Cash Reserves?

Bag of coinsHello,

I am wondering whether you have any guidelines about a good amount of cash to keep in reserve, or what to use as a basis for determining the amount of cash. We have a substantial surplus, growing every year despite our efforts to price classes at a close to break-even rate.

Thank you!
Shaun S in Minnesota

Shaun,

What a wonderful position to be in-cash reserves growing each year! Many for-profit businesses are not doing that well!

It’s a little difficult to be specific without knowing how you operate, such as do you collect all fees at the start of the semester or do you operate month to month.  Can families drop out or join mid semester? Do you offer refunds of fees paid if a family drops out? etc…

Basically, the tighter you run your cash flow (i.e., only collecting a month at a time), the more you need in reserve.

I recommend that you look at your sources of income.  Imagine any one item being eliminated, such as a major fund raiser. How would you run your co-op without that source of income? Sometimes when a nonprofit loses a major source of funding, it needs to fall back on cash reserves for a while.

Here are a few guidelines to help you determine the amount of cash reserves needed:
1. Have at least 10%, maybe 15% of your income in reserve for emergencies, damages or disasters.
2. Have at least one or two month’s rent in reserve in case you need to move locations.
3. If you pay employees, have at least three months of their pay  in reserve.
4. Consider creating a future plan of major purchases (like a computer or software) or programs you’d like to offer. Your surplus could be applied to your “wish list.”
5. Have at least enough in reserve to cover the deductibles on your liability and medical/accident insurance.

Here are a few ideas of what to do with your cash surplus:
1. Offer reduced fees to hurting families. In my homeschool co-op, we have a widow and another family with a disabled father, so they get free access to our co-op classes.
2. Offer reduced fees for significant volunteer efforts. We offer teacher discounts and discounts to our co-op director.
3. Make a contribution to the location you are renting if  it is a church or community organization.
4. Have an end of year party with a catered dinner.
5. Give appreciation gifts to all your volunteers.

I hope that helps!

Carol Topp, CPA

Ten Ways to Torture a Tired Leader

My friends Kristen and Denise of Homeschool Group Leader have a sense of humor.

denisekristen067b

You have to be able to laugh at human weaknesses if you are a homeschool leader.

Here are their 10 Ways to Torture a Tired Leader:

Top 10 Ways to Torture a Tired Leader!
  1. Don’t Listen ~ Talk all during the announcements, the meeting discussions and while your leader shares important information.
  2. Be Clueless ~ Ask your leader repeated questions about the information that you didn’t just listen to. Send them one-line questions in individual emails spread out over time.
  3. Fill Other Members’ E-mail In Boxes ~ Send your repeated questions and comments to everyone on the list, filling all in-boxes, instead of only the in-box of the leader to whom you’re writing.
  4. Quit at the Last Second ~ Volunteer to help with, or better yet–lead–an activity, then back out at the very end, leaving it all for the leader to complete.
  5. Gossip ~ Discuss the leader’s clothes, kids, home life, homeschool, and leadership style –openly and with great fervor.
  6. Complain ~ Never be happy with the place, the decisions, the agenda, the trips, the teachers, or the way the leader looks at you.
  7. Show Up Late ~ Choose carefully the events that need to start at a specific time and strategically and systematically show up 15 or 30 minutes late.
  8. Never Help Clean Up ~ Don’t stay after any event and help clean up. After all, isn’t that what the leader is there for??
  9. Don’t Watch Your Kids ~ Let them run wild or talk while someone else is talking. Then get offended when someone asks them to be quiet or to sit down.
  10. Be Demanding ~ Always express your opinion as fact. Be sure you speak every time someone else does, making sure that your frustrations and wants are very clear each time.

Recognize anyone?  Maybe you at times? Some of these are too close to the truth to be truly funny!

Carol Topp, CPA

Observations from the Midwest Homeschool Convention

On April 16-18, 2009 , I attended the Midwest Homeschool Convention here in my hometown of Cincinnati, Ohio.

mwhsc-logo-3-inv

I did two workshops, one on Homeschool Co-ops: How to Start Them, Run Them and Not Burn Out (named after my book of the same title) and the other on Micro Business for Teenagers (my upcoming book).

Here are a few of my observations:

Homeschool leaders from across the country all have similar problems:

  • No one wants to work or join the board
  • Older, experienced hoemschool mothes are not coming to meetings
  • There is a need for a clear vision and purpose. Leaders want to be everything to everyone.
  • Policies and bylaws are sorely needed to elect new board members, deal with conflict, and to prevent burnout

Meeting and talking to attorney David Gibbs of the Homeschool Legal Advantage was a highlight.  We look forward to a wonderful working partnership helping homeschool organizations. Individual families have long had access to legal advice, but now there is a need for homeschool groups to have access to legal advice also.

Some homeschool leaders lack business sense. I heard about fund raising disasters, mistakes with charging fees and offering discounts, etc.

Meeting some of my virtual friends in person was fun.  And I’m so sorry that I missed some of you! I was stuck in my booth (I shared a booth with Mary Hood, the Relaxed Homeschooler) and didn’t get out much.

Here were some of the questions that were asked during the Homeschool Co-ops workshop:

  • What does your co-op charge? Is it by student or by family?
  • How often does your co-op meet? How long each time?
  • Do you interview potential members?
  • How do we ensure everyone is like minded?
  • How can we encourage members to help out more?
  • Do you group grades/ages in your co-op?
  • What classes do you offer?
  • Ho do you “fire” a volunteer?
  • How do you elect a new baord?
  • Can a co-op keep the same director/leader forever?
  • Why collect a registration fee?
  • Where do you meet for co-op classes?
  • What is a typical rental fee?

Aren’t those great questions? I’ll work on answering them on this blog in the future.

I will also be presenting this workshop and several others at the Home Educators Association of Virginia convention  June 11-13.  Stop by my booth and say hello if you attend the convention!

heavlogo

Carol Topp, CPA

Conflict and Leaving a Homeschool Group

We have a situation where a mom feels her teen daughter is being “left out” by the other girls in the class.  It “hit the fan” yesterday when the mom yelled at one girl to leave the class, threatened that the other girl was next.

How does one get to the bottom of this? The family who has the child who was yelled at would like to quietly step down and leave the group. She’s been involved for 5 years -I’d be heartbroken to lose them!

All with only 2 weeks left of the quietest, smoothest co-op year ever!
Oh, help, help, help!
Lisa

Lisa,
Sounds as if a lot of  emotions and hurt feelings rose to the surface.

I wrote an article on Conflict in Homeschool Groups. You may read the entire article at Heart of The Matter Online. Here is part of what I say in the article:

Confession and Reconciliation

Some offenses are too large to be overlooked, perhaps because a relationship has been painfully damaged. In this case, confession and reconciliation between parties is needed. Reconciliation is gently restoring the relationship and it may involve confession on someone’s part. Each party needing reconciliation should ask themselves,

  • Have I said something unkind?”
  • Have I gossiped about the person or problem?”
  • Have I tried to control others?”

Confession to the other party maybe necessary in order to restore a relationship. Reconciliation isnot merely confrontation; it is restoring a relationship. Remind members to ask for God’s wisdom and a gentle spirit before they approach the other party. Each party should aim to be clear and specific.

Merely complaining about another’s behavior rarely helps a situation. The goal is restoring a relationship, not blaming or accusing others. Members should use “I feel” statements such as “I feel like a scolded child,” to explain the hurt feelings a member may suffer.

Using creativity through stories to make your point can be very helpful. An excellent example of using stories comes from the Old Testament prophet Nathan in II Samuel Chapter 12. He had the unpleasant task of confronting King David with his sins of adultery and murder. Nathan wisely used a story of a poor man with only one lamb to help David see his own greed.

I used The Peacemaker: A Biblical Guide to Resolving Personal Conflict by Ken Sande.  It’s a GREAT book and highly recommended. The Peacemaker.net website has some helpful articles from Annette Friesen, their Homeschool Advisor. Search on “Homeschool” and you’ll find an article titled Preparing Homeschoolers for Conflict.

Mrs Freisen says that when a person is offended, (and several people were offended in your situation) they desire three things:

1. An apology
2. Restitution if applicable
3. Reassurance that it won’t happen again.

I think you should work on #1 with the parties involved and perhaps the board could work on #3 if policies are needed.

BTW, I discuss conflict in my book, Homeschool Co-ops: How to Start Them, Run Them and Not Burn Out and have several sample conflict resolution policies that other homeschool groups use.

I hope that helps!

Carol Topp, CPA

Group using personal Paypal account

money_exchange_100Hi Carol,

Our (homeschool group’s) yearbook is looking take in the money thru my personal paypal account, then deposit it into an separate bank account so that our Assoc. does cross over the $5000.00 mark. How is this done so that I don’t have to claim the money as extra income.

Currently the association is trying to do a paypal account not just for yearbook for membership dues, they are hesitant because they set up the a paypal account under non-profit, paypal is wanting proof of this and we don’t have it. I suggested that they explain to paypal that they we are a Unincorporated Non-Profit Assoc. and it should be fine.

Sandy in TX

Sandy,

The ideal way to operate is to set up a Paypal account for the association/homeschool group and not run anything through your personal Paypal account.

I understand from other homeschool leaders, that Paypal expects to see proof from the IRS of tax exempt status. They may also accept a nonprofit incorporation certificate from your state. They told one homeschool group they would accept “certified Articles of Incorporation.”

One homeschool registered with Paypal as “Category: Education, Subcategory: Elementary and secondary schools.” While not as accurate as “Charitable/Nonprofit”, it got the job done!

If your organization is not a nonprofit corporation or doesn’t want to be classified by Paypal as as a school, then tell your board that you are using your personal Paypal account and have them record it in the minutes of a board meeting. (“Sandy agreed to allow use of her personal Paypal account for the yearbook project”) Keep a very clear paper trail just in case you are ever audited by the IRS. Keep paper records of every transaction and especially the transfers in and out of the Paypal account. Make print outs from Paypal and file them away with wherever you keep your tax return information. (Do NOT send them to the IRS with your tax return.)

Anyone had problems setting up a Paypal account for their homeschool organization? Id like to hear your experience.

Carol Topp, CPA