By Madelynn Coldiron
More Bardstown Independent students at all grade levels are taking advantage of the district’s STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) program. Intermediate grades at Bardstown Elementary are learning critical thinking strategies from a program that brings together art and history. The district’s middle and high schools have received percussion instruments for choral accompaniment. And the artist in residency at the high school is providing watercolor instruction.
All this was made possible by grants from the Bardstown Foundation for Excellence in Public Education – which itself gets a funding boost from an unusual source: the school district’s credit card strategy.
Since 2010, the school system has used a rewards-back credit card for many common district expenditures. The program allowed the district to convert the rewards points into cash (see chart), which it then gave to the education foundation. The organization was formed back in 1984 to provide funding for new and innovative ideas that benefit Bardstown students.
“It’s a really good way to help fund your foundation,” Superintendent Brent Holsclaw said. “We just started paying everything we were going to be paying on American Express. Obviously, of course, we pay it off within the window of time. I want to make it clear that by charging everything on a credit card that we never pay interest, ever.”
Bardstown school board Vice Chairwoman Kathy Reed said the district and the foundation “work hand in hand” to help the school provide new ways to improve learning.
“Any way we can get money for the school is an excellent idea,” she said.
Holsclaw said the idea came out of a brainstorming session among administrative and finance staff.
“We could have just rolled it back into the general fund, but it seemed like this was a great way to contribute (to the foundation),” he said.
How it works
District treasurer Tracey Rogers said the district started out with one type of AmEx card, which provided a reward of 1 percent on expenditures. When that program was revamped and the reward percentage was reduced last year, the district switched to a different AmEx card. It operates similarly to the old one, but the rewards are based on a different formula that can net rewards of as much as 1.155 percent, with a floor of .77 percent, she said.
The district has had to approach its vendors to find out which were willing to accept American Express, and many do, Rogers said. Among the purchases for which the district receives rewards points are milk, cleaning supplies, copying, food suppliers, mechanical services and security.
“We’re just redirecting payment,” Holsclaw said. “These are expenditures we always had.”
Rogers estimated that about 10 percent of the district’s expenditures fall under this payment system. It may not sound like a lot, she said, “but on the flip side of that, we’re getting money back that we normally wouldn’t.”
Lisa Edelen, president of the Bardstown Foundation for Excellence in Public Education, said the rewards fund from the district accounted for 19 percent of the group’s fundraising donations in 2013. The additional money has helped the organization support major projects, such as the three-year commitment it has made to the STEM initiative, as well as smaller ones, including the mini grants the foundation annually awards teachers.
The rewards program also helps the foundation in the long term, she said. “This funding has allowed the foundation to comfortably invest more money each year into programs and projects (like STEM), but also it is allowing us to invest for the future, helping to assure the financial viability of the foundation well into the future,” Edelen said in an email.
Internal accounting controls and oversight are maintained throughout the process of handling these transactions, Rogers said. School board members see each charge on the district’s MUNIS financial report, with a description of what was purchased, rather than a lump-sum total owed to the credit card company.
While the first card was issued only in the superintendent’s name, cards under the new program are available to the technology, transportation and maintenance departments, along with one for general use.
Rogers has set up the system so that the credit card company sends her an email notification for every transaction made with the district’s card, so any fraud can be spotted and halted immediately.
She said the program has meant some additional work for finance staff, “but I think that’s a small price to pay for the rewards you get, because you’re earning money on these common expenditures that you’d have no matter.”
— To read Bardstown Independent’s Best Practice document about this program on the Kentucky Department of Education’s website, click here, and select "Search for Best Practices", and then find the program by doing an Advanced Search.
Credit card reward funds to Bardstown Foundation for Excellence in Public Education
FY10 $500 (January through June)
FY14 $3,700 (July through December)