The Importance of Volunteering

May 23, 2011

The next in our guest series from Unity Charter School: today we hear from Peter Munde, a member of Unity’s Board of Trustees, who sheds some light on complicated charter school finances and the satisfaction of volunteering in Unity’s unique lunchroom.

Lunchtime at Unity Charter School

By Peter Munde

With our child attending Unity Charter School, volunteering affords a unique look at how Unity Charter School makes do with limited resources.

As a member of the UCS Board of Trustees, one of the things I do is chair the Finance Committee.  While charter schools are supposed to be funded at 90% of mainstream public school funding, in practice, they often receive less money than that. Unity’s students, for example, come from approximately 35 sending districts in addition to the Morris School District.  Not only does each district have different per-pupil school expenditures, the mix of sending districts varies from year to year too, which makes it difficult to plan Unity’s budget.

Moreover, facilities costs drive up a charter school’s fixed costs.  Where a mainstream school district budgets approximately two percent of its total annual expenses for facilities, 20% to 25% of a charter school’s annual budget goes toward building and maintenance.  That’s a big chunk of money that impairs our ability to pay for other necessities!  Yet, somehow each year, we manage.

Because of these financial factors, charter schools depend more on volunteers than a regular school does.  School director Carolyn Mungo functions both as school principal and as superintendent of a one-school, self-contained district.  She makes do with one administrative assistant.

To meet the school’s needs, parent volunteers help extensively.  A dedicated volunteer team located the new building at One Evergreen Place. This was more than a few phone calls on a weekday afternoon: it was countless hours of scouring the neighborhood for a suitable building; going before town planning boards; being available for meetings and building inspections, and so much more. If we had had to pay someone for this time, we could not have afforded the move.

Others support the school’s award-winning lunch program, helping to prepare the food, serve meals and wash laundry. For the last two years, I’ve been fortunate to devote one day each week to working in the school’s kitchen.

Unity Charter School lunchroom

Table setting at Unity Charter School

In our house, a nice family dinner is the most important part of the day.  It’s not easy to prepare a meal from scratch after a long workday, but putting good food on the table is priceless to me.  So volunteering in the Unity kitchen was a no-brainer.

I derive visceral satisfaction in completing basic tasks like cleaning and cutting fruit and vegetables, preparing salad dressing or tomato sauce, and generally assisting our wonderful chef. Yeah sure, washing the dishes provides no satisfaction, but it’s absolutely necessary.

Cleaning up after lunch at Unity Charter School

And I love serving my child, and all the other kids, a homemade lunch each time I work there.

This series concludes next Tuesday, after the Memorial Day holiday.

Part 1 – Unity Charter School: With Room To Grow
Part 2 – Unity Charter School: A Teacher’s Perspective
Part 3 – “I feel like I died and went to school heaven

Images: Unity Charter School