Depending on the school, it's founding, and the leadership, financial management of charter schools often takes a back seat to other concerns. I recently reviewed budgets for potential start up schools that included less than $5,000 total for their first year's financial management and audit.
While a financial manager is not the first person that a school hires, it might well consider it the second position to be hired. A school is not its financial manager, but the financial manager can support the school's success by ensuring that budgets are met and that long term financial projections are made to ensure that this year's budget does not cause problems for future years.
Often it is the financial manager or outside financial management company that directs and educates the school leaders and the board in financial matters and the financial pitfalls of decisions. Because so many charter school failures occur because of poor financial management, the financial function increases in its value to the community.
Because of the community feel of many charter schools, financial managers within a school often wear additional hats. They often interact with faculty members and students in ways that they would not in a non-charter situation. Often the financial manager is at a district office, away from parents and the school. In most charter schools, the financial manager is sitting right next to the principal's office. I've seen cases in which the financial manager almost ends up being the assistant principal. This requires skills that go far beyond the ability to ensure compliance with state account codes and present financial reports.
The community must support the financial manager by ensuring that at least some board members understand financial reports and can support the financial manager or outsourced accountant. The principal should also learn the budget and the account codes so that the financial manager isn't the only voice for the budget to the authorizer.
Parents also must either trust the financial leader or else learn enough about the way the school's budget works to make intelligent comments about it. In addition, the because the budget is ultimately the responsibility of the board, the parent community must understand (and it's the board's role to educate parents) the budget, the budget process, and the limitations in the budget and how priorities were developed.
The financial manager along with the board must ensure that in an active community, both the board and the parent community understand the budget limitations and priorities. In this way, the community can embrace (even if they don't like) the budget and support it. This also allows an honest discussion about the ways in which priorities should change over time and at different stages of the school lifecycles.
So many times the financial manager is seen as someone off to the side, in an office set away from everyone else, paying bills, making sure people get paid, and making sure no one spends any money. The truth is that a good financial manager is constantly thinking of ways that the budget can be rearranged and re-prioritized to bring students the greatest value for the dollars provided to the school. While that is not a popular job, it is crucial to the charter school and must be seen as an integral part of the community.