A leading network of public charter schools needed a scalable HR solution to support their valuable yet dispersed staff.
Flexible, full-service HR provided by TriNet includes an intuitive platform for payroll administration and access to an extensive selection of benefits for their talented, multi-locational team.
Founded in 2003 by a group of parents in the Bay Area, Summit Public Schools adheres to the belief that all students deserve an equitable education and access to world-class curriculum to equip them for success throughout their life. Their network of 10 tuition-free schools serves a diverse student body throughout the Bay Area and Washington state—100% of whom are prepared for college and graduate college at twice the national average. These impressive accolades are accomplished through Summit’s research-based instructional approach, project-based learning and mentorship. Summit’s model framework has since been adopted by the greater education community so schools across the country can better meet their students’ needs. Summit’s national recognition is also largely a result of their CEO and education visionary, Diane Tavenner, who is continuously developing systems to put students in the driver’s seat of their education.
Like Summit, most schools will attest that the variety of professionals who come together to help students are vital to the school’s success. This includes faculty, administrators and operations, some of whom may work part-time or full-time, and may be paid hourly or salaried. The diverse requirements of these positions can be cumbersome for payroll, especially with the cyclical nature of the academic year. “We have teachers who work a certain length of time during the year, administrators who work a separate time of year, and hourly employees,” explains Joyce Montgomery, CFO at Summit. Joyce greatly values TriNet’s accurate and simple payroll solution with what she refers to as “wind-up-and-go” features. Her team accesses TriNet payroll through a comprehensive technology platform. Joyce appreciates the functionality which includes automatic processing with payroll preview, integrated time and attendance tracking, and the ability to implement multiple pay rates, frequencies and salary schedules. It also helps that their teachers have continuous access to benefits over the summer despite their non-standard, 11-month contracts. Joyce tells us, “The reality is, I never hear a complaint about payroll. Never. And as the CFO, that's good news.”
The technology is complemented by a service team who helps Summit administrators tackle tough HR issues that schools face. “TriNet HR experts are very responsive to our questions and concerns when things come up,” said Joyce. TriNet recognizes that the myriad of available leave plans often apply to schools differently and helps with processing these complex leave logistics. Strategic HR experts also meet with Summit leaders to proactively plan for HR needs that arise during the summer—addressing areas such as new hires, terminations, additional pay groups, stipends and more. This helps to ensure a smooth start to the upcoming academic year.
Summit leadership recognizes that a critical component to operating high-performing schools is retaining exceptional educators. “TriNet's bevy of benefits programs, especially in California, gives us a lot of opportunity to provide access to a very large menu of options for all of our teachers and staff,” said Joyce. “The benefits program that Summit teachers and staff have access to, based on TriNet's employee benefit plans, is the best I've seen in all of the charter schools I've worked with in the state.” TriNet offers access to a variety of cost-effective benefits from regional and national carriers that otherwise may be out of reach for a school of their size. Additionally, TriNet’s transparent pricing for full-service HR includes a flat per-employee, per-month administrative fee so service costs are predictable as opposed to working with multiple vendors.
“The genesis to working with TriNet was when we were doing some explosive growth in terms of trying to nationally change the conversation about education,” explained Joyce. “We had people basically working in all four corners of the country, so a typical, stand-alone payroll company wasn’t necessarily going to be successful for us.” As a comprehensive HR solution, TriNet not only helps Summit navigate each state’s payroll tax requirements, but also helps them comply with varying employment regulations and requirements spanning wages, benefits, paid leave and unemployment insurance claims, to name a few.
While Summit is familiar with the HR challenges that come with having a team dispersed across the country, the COVID-19 pandemic further amplified the need for new policies as more of their school employees relocated. One of these was a remote work policy which TriNet helped design. “We’re going to have more people who are working from an out-of-state position and doing that yourself internally is very, very hard. Having TriNet, who has that skill set, knowledge and expertise really makes it much easier for us to accommodate our staff who we value significantly,” said Joyce. By working with TriNet, “it's very easy to hire someone in a state we haven't been in,” claims Joyce. The TriNet platform is designed to automatically put applicable processes in place to help with a particular state’s or locality’s employment and tax requirements.
Like many businesses in the age of COVID-19, Summit secured a PPP loan but they didn’t need to worry about the required documentation and forgiveness process. TriNet’s reporting tool, Workforce Analytics, gave them access to PPP-specific report templates developed by TriNet experts. One of them provides a detailed breakout of eligible payroll costs for a selected date range as defined by the PPP loan statute. “TriNet was very helpful when we applied for PPP loans with the consolidation of the 941s, which are the tax returns. That was very beneficial and something that TriNet experts were very instrumental in helping us with,” said Joyce. She also greatly values Workforce Analytics for grant reporting where she can match Summit’s expenditures against grant documents for specific projects.
Within the purview of a charter school is an annual budget assessment to determine if Summit is optimally allocating their public school funding. Joyce asserts this internal review always results in continuing their relationship with TriNet “because they give us so much value and so many options that we just can't get in any other way. To take something like that away from our staff would probably have very detrimental implications." Her favorite aspect of working with TriNet is “the fact that it’s very comprehensive. We get the payroll services, the benefit services. It's a one-stop-shop for the employees. They don't have to go through multiple, different systems.”
Not only do they continue to operate some of the best performing public schools in the country, but Summit also spearheads other nationally recognized initiatives to advance education. “Our CEO is an innovator, a visionary thinker, so we never know what the next incubation is going to be but there will always be something,” said Joyce. “We expand and then we contract which is very helpful with TriNet because our size doesn't faze you and our changes don't faze you. TriNet gives us a lot of variety and strength when we're trying to do really amazing things out in the education world.” TriNet will continue to flex and adapt for Summit so they can create an exceptional education experience and prepare students for a fulfilling life.