Suzanne Townsend, Chief Financial Officer

“Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” –John Lennon

There is a lot of truth in that famous phrase, which is why being as prepared as possible to respond to unexpected challenges is vitally important. Fiscal year 2020 was unlike any other, with major damage and destruction resulting from part of campus in the direct path of the October 2019 tornado, and the need to pivot to remote instruction and school operations in response to a worldwide pandemic in March of 2020. Neither adversity was anticipated but plans and sound risk management were in place to help support the work that needed to be done.

We called on so many of the professionals who have long-standing working relationships with St. Mark’s, and they all responded quickly. The day after the tornado, individuals were on campus assisting with recovery efforts including among others: roofers, landscaping workers, water extraction and restoration specialists, technology consultants, electricians, fire alarm experts, civil engineers, architects, construction workers, insurance consultants, and large-claims adjusters. The Facilities Committee, led by Chair Craig Levering ’75, steadfastly supported the work of staff and administration throughout the process. Our Security team ensured that the damaged buildings and grounds were safeguarded. Because of these heroic efforts, students and faculty returned to the classrooms ten days after the tornado struck.

The damage to campus was extensive. 250 trees were lost in the storm. Most of the copper roofs had to be replaced with new ones. The chapel organ, less than five years old, suffered water damage beyond repair and was sent to the Letourneau facility near Montreal to be rebuilt. Hicks Family Athletic Center was completely destroyed. Many buildings had significant water damage. All the School’s vehicles were totaled. Miraculously and thankfully, there was no loss of life and all the damage and destruction could be repaired and replaced. Our property insurance carrier responded quickly, and claims were paid in a timely manner. Nonetheless, immediate, significant cash flow was required to begin the work.

Thanks to the excellent planning and oversight over the years by the Finance Committee, two reserve funds for future operations were in place. The Chair of the committee, David McAtee ’87, and its members supported using those funds as needed for immediate expenditures, with a plan that monies recovered from insurance claims would replenish the reserves as feasible.

Then in late winter, COVID-19 pandemic resulted in a shelter-in-place restriction for Dallas County. Classes and all school operations continued remotely. For the first time, St. Mark’s families were offered assistance with tuition payment options for the 2020-2021 academic year. The Business Office staff quickly found ways to support tuition billing and collection as well as accounts payable via paperless, electronic transactions.

Worldwide financial markets responded erratically to the economic effects of the pandemic. Investment Committee Chair Fraser Marcus ’72 and members of that committee maintained their steady, long-view approach to the Endowment Fund portfolio and never considered making hasty decisions in reaction to market swings.  

Due to careful stewardship, savings from canceled travel and events in the budget, and increased enrollment for the year, fiscal year 2020 ended very positively and yielded a surplus. The surplus was added to reserve funds for future operations and funds for expenses associated with responses to the pandemic. The Audit Committee, chaired by Jeff Hillier ’76, recently received the fiscal year 2020 audit report with a “clean opinion” from the School’s independent auditors, Lane Gorman Trubitt.

St. Mark’s faced two major, unanticipated challenges during the 2019-2020 academic year, but with excellent governance, risk management, and stewardship of resources, the School sustained, persevered, and responded with positivity, stability, and great faith in the future of the institution. Our community is truly “St. Mark’s Strong.”
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