Independent Schools

Three Characteristics of Independent Schools

Financial Integrity

Independent schools are characterized by financial accounting that is distinct from any parent institutional accounting. VAIS documentation supporting Standard 7 calls for a current audit, management letter, and opinion letter which means that on an annual basis a “full opinion” audit is conducted by a certified public accountant independent of the school, according to the principles of “Statement-of-Position-7810,” issued by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants, entitled “Accounting Principles and Reporting Practices for Certain Non-Profit Organizations.” SOP-7810 audits require an accountant’s opinion certifying the audit to be conducted in accordance with “generally accepted accounting standards and principles,” (i.e., random testing of transactions, investigation of internal controls), a balance sheet, a statement of support/revenues, expenses, capital additions, and changes in fund balances.

Administrative Integrity

Independent schools are characterized by governance by a separate Board of Trustees distinct from any parent institutional board, and the presence of an administrative structure that embodies a separate board responsible for setting policy and a Head with authority to administer free from interference. Church-related schools may be “independent” and at the same time linked to a parent institution:  

  • A church-related school may have a same tax-identity as its parent church or parish.
  • A church-related school may co-occupy the same physical plant as its parent church or parish.
  • A church-related school’s independent governing body may have certain limitations placed upon its governing freedom, such as seeking approval from the parent institution’s governing entity before: borrowing money, purchasing or disposing of real estate, appointing or discharging the Head of the school, altering accounting or reporting methods, authorizing capital expenditures outside of those approved within the school’s long-range plan, or altering in statement or deed the philosophy and objectives of the school.
Nonetheless, the by-laws should state that outside of those limitations explicitly stated or powers explicitly denied, all other powers of the day-to-day and year-to-year operations are reserved to the school’s administration and the school’s governing board. A church-related school may have some of but not all of the membership of its governing board, but at least one-third of the school’s independent governing board must be comprised of members not a part of the parent institution’s governing board.

To be “a legal entity organized not-for-profit,” the school should be nonproprietary. A majority of the Board members should have no financial interest in the school. If a Board member receives remuneration for school services rendered or facilities provided, such remuneration should not exceed fair market value.

Academic Integrity

Independent schools are characterized by academic freedom, freedom of promoting diversity in teaching approaches and curricular choices, and freedom from restricting teachers to any single dogma. 

Many VAIS schools affirm a religious mission or a particular educational philosophy and continue to be considered “independent” schools. When a school’s philosophy, however, dictates that all teacher and textbook selections are predicated upon a single dogma, (e.g., philosophical, political, religious, etc.), then that philosophy no longer espouses the idea of schools as a marketplace of ideas. In that case, academic freedom is considered by VAIS to be absent and that school, accordingly, is considered not to be independent.