I was asked to review the NCLB legislation and identify possible funding opportunities for the schools managed by the company where I work. Preliminary research revealed that there is a great deal of money being put into education, but there are many obstacles for charter schools to overcome should they attempt to pursue these funds. I told senior management that it didn’t look too good for our schools. I was told to go look again and to come up with a list of a few possibilities. I found three: One program had already been funded, so we would have to wait until the following school year to apply. The second program had poverty level requirements; we missed the mark by just a hair – poor, but not poor enough. The third program had potential, but the application process was complex and the deadline was in 13 working days. The only thing that made sense was to spend this year planning the program and submit a proposal next year. I typed up a document with my findings in a table (we love tables, we love charts, we love bullet points in this company). I made a second document listing the pros and cons of pursuing the third opportunity; there were many more reasons not to do it, and the reasons to do it weren’t all that good. My recommendation was to not apply, to wait. I told my boss and he understood implicitly; he had expected such results. Before the meeting with senior management, I made sure everyone on our team was in agreement: we don’t think we should do this. No grant. Grant application bad. None of us thought anyone would listen to us.

So there’s a meeting, there’s the CEO, there’s the VP of whatever he’s in charge of today. They have expectant looks on their smug faces. I hand out my materials, I talk about the situation, I make my recommendation. Of course, well, you know.

I was looking at 12 working days to review the RFP, design a program, describe all the logistics in 20 double-spaced pages of 12 point Times New Roman, and come up with a budget. "Cut and paste!" senior management encouraged. I would have, had I had any older material that I could work from. But this was totally new. We had no language for this. I would have to drive 90 miles twice to interview the appropriate individuals. I would have to schedule meetings and conference calls. I would have to do research on the Internet. I would have to clear my plate and do nothing but work on this proposal.

Accumulating information was actually fun and interesting. Making up program activities, setting goals and objectives that sounded okay to me, writing the compelling description of need for this funding – while it was work, it wasn’t that bad. I even got to stay home to write. The worst part was coordinating the acquisition of the letters of recommendation. But then came the budget, and everything changed.

Shortly after I finished reading the final version of the narrative, the finance guy asked me to clarify some of the figures. We went to his desk. My boss wandered over, looked at the spreadsheet, and mentioned a few line items that were missing. The finance guy and my boss hovered over some papers and made calculations. I got bored and went back to my desk. I worked on preparing the package we’d be taking to the School Board on Monday. When I went back to the finance guy’s desk, they showed me what the budget was looking like. The bottom line was about three times more than I expected. The problem was that in the third, fourth, and fifth years of this 5-year program, the required matching of funds was 20%, 40%, 60%. In total, it was a lot of money. More money than senior management wanted to be responsible for finding. So much money that we thought it would be really bad to be awarded the grant.

So we had some choices, we did, at 6 p.m. on a Friday. We could completely reconfigure the program, but I wasn’t about to rewrite anything. Not after spending 30 minutes trying to get that last paragraph off of page 21. But no one wanted me to do that; reconfiguring the program would destroy the entire basis of the proposal. The next choice was to not submit the proposal. I really wanted that choice; I became less sluggish, more animated when I heard that choice. That was the right choice. It was what we recommended in the first place, before I wrote that damned fine proposal. But there’s a third choice, and when I heard it at 7 p.m., I drew a heavy sigh and finally left the office. There are voicemail messages, several, from many different people on three different lines, all asking the guy from the other partnership organization to give us a call. It’s urgent. It’s about the grant. We’re going to ask him to get his organization to vouch for the astronomical matching funds. And if he says yes, I will have to scramble all day on Monday, pulling the last-minute pieces together and driving the proposal to the School Board in the next county over. And if he says no, if it’s no, then we won’t submit the proposal and everything will go on as if none of this ever happened.