Getting by with Less
In these belt-tightening times, your peers share some of their more creative ideas for increasing revenue and cutting budgetary red tape
California Gov. Gray Davis is asking for a 1 percent budget increase for the state Department of Corrections. Meanwhile, he is mandating that the state cut $4.5 billion from its education budget, close to 11 percent of all its education K-12 spending.
In North Carolina, legislators have asked state education officials to find ways to cut more than $125 million, or about 2.3 percent, of the state allocation for public schools in the fiscal 2002 budget.
And even though President Bush is asking to raise Texas' federal education grant by $207 million, law makers in the Lone Star state are whispering about saving money by doing away with 12th grade or going to a four-day school week.
In these tough times, it's up to administrators to find creative ways of boosting their bottom line. Superintendents across the country are breaking free from their budget shackles and are asking for a little help from the powers that be.
Minimize the Effects
Whether they realize it or not, the California legislature recently passed a number of bills that make it more difficult for the state's superintendents to balance their budgets. For example, did you know that a district can't privatize or outsource any of its non-educational services-such as transportation, food services or grounds maintenance-simply to save money?
"Take a look at six of the most onerous laws you passed that will do nothing but increase costs and don't help children at all and simply defer those for now, just put them aside," urges James Fleming, Superintendent of the Capistrano (Calif.) Unified School District (www.capousd.org) and president of the California City School Superintendents Association.
In January, Fleming met with Gov. Davis to discuss 20 proposals to minimize the effect of state budget cuts on students. His recommendations include often suggested ideas such as tapping reserves and deferring state tests to more forward-reaching ideas such as the ability to block-grant existing state categorical programs.
For example, on the heels of the Columbine massacre, Fleming's district received a massive school safety allocation grant and receives $600,000 in a categorical grant for school safety programs. Also, through the Tobacco Use Prevention Education Act the district receives $400,000 to educate students about the negative effects of smoking. "Both of them worthy public policy objectives, but clearly taking away from the prerogatives of local school boards to make determinations about what's best for the education of children," Fleming says.
Fleming is asking that he be given the authority to take funds from some of the state's 150 categorical programs and use them to make up for budget shortfalls.
As he did in his district, Fleming suggests "taking a look at all of your options" to help stop wasteful spending. In order to have involvement from all of the district's stakeholders, the superintendent created a number of budget committees-one made up of parents, one of teachers and one of classified support personnel. He went to these groups and said, "We've got these cuts we have to make. How about you giving me some ideas."
And ideas he got. One of the district's bus drivers suggested some serious consolidation of bus routes. She had spoken to other drivers and found that there were many buses that weren't running a full load of students, especially in the afternoon. The solution was to run one set of routes in the morning and different routes in the afternoon, resulting in some cost savings for the district's transportation budget.
Similarly, the district's warehouse supervisor suggested saving money by making an arrangement with product providers to ship the goods directly to schools. The district had had been having the items shipped to a district warehouse and then transported to individual buildings. "Sometimes some great ideas can come out of dealing with the rank-and-file folks," Fleming says.
Would an extra $3,000 a month per building help in your district? It certainly has in the Charleston (N.C.) County School District (www.ccsdschools.com). For more than 15 years West Ashley High School Principal Bob Olson has been wheeling and dealing with corporations to bring a better education to his students. How has he done it? Through corporate contracts. Currently, the school receives 43 cents for every dollar spent on soda.
About seven years ago the district combined two high schools of 1,000 students each into one school that would serve between 2,500 and 3,000 students. Olson contacted the soda vendor he was under contract with to help in the construction planning of the new building. His philosophy was to decide the best places to put vending machines, so if they chose to put machines in, they wouldn't just be stuck here and there, but there would be the right number of plugs and they wouldn't be out in the open.
Once the recommendation was in, Olson met with the architects and incorporated space planning for the machines.
Next, he invited Coca-Cola and Pepsi to make presentations to a special committee to get exclusive distribution rights for five years.
"We were amazed at how [the distributors] wanted to come into our school. And basically, they helped us finish some things in the construction that had been value-engineered out," Olson says.
In addition, West Ashley High School has received numerous scoreboards, an electronic signboard in front of the school-that alone would have cost $35,000-cafeteria seating and sound panels in the gym, all donated by the soft drink company.
All of the money pouring into the high school caught the attention of the district. Superintendent Ron McWhirt put out an RFP for a district-wide soda contract and recently signed a deal with Pepsi. And because Olson began the relationship, his school received a three-digit signing bonus.
The next time your flight is coming in for a landing at the Dallas-Fort Worth airport, take a look out the window and you might see a huge Dr Pepper ad painted on the rooftop of a building. Sound strange? Probably not. But if you knew that building was a public high school, you might realize that its administration folks are shrewd businessmen.
Its all part of an advertising program the Grapevine-Colleyville (Texas) School District (www.gcisd-k12.org) began in the spring of 1997. While advertising in public schools has long been a controversial subject, this district of 13,584 students right next to the DFW airport, didn't receive the bad publicity they had anticipated.
"I had only one person call me to complain. We have a lot of parents who are very involved in the district, so for only one to complain was a very low number. Her fear was that we would have billboards in front of the schools. But obviously, that wasn't what we wanted to do," says Louise Henry, the district's director of development and community relations.
Pepsi took advantage of a deal the district was offering where anyone who donated $15,000 or more could have their logo painted on a rooftop. The district also offers a $10,000 package where advertisers receive a 2' x 5' sign in every gym, a 12' x 4' sign in the stadium and banner advertisements on school busses.
Parent reaction to the advertising campaign has been almost silent. Henry says, "If you were to ask our parents what they think of the advertising program, the majority of the answers would be 'What advertising program?' "
"We're pretty strict on what we allow in our students' hands but we're generous when it comes to allowing the advertiser to have the space they purchased, Henry says. "If there are community supporters that are willing to put their banner out in support of what the school is doing for a fee, it's win-win for both parties. Any time you can support what the school district is doing and, at the same time, support a local business, that's a win-win situation."
The Grapevine-Colleyville district has also embarked on a practice not too common in K-12 education-establishing a foundation by soliciting funds from alumni and the community-at-large. While foundations have been a major source of revenue for higher education institutions, K-12 districts have been slow to adopt the practice.
"If you look at the history of philanthropy, many of our public universities in Texas began foundations in the early 1900s. And now you can tell a public university that has an active alumni association and an active development department from ones that don't-they have more enrollment and they have more ability to serve students," says Henry. "And whether that's fair or not, I think [the creation of ] foundations will begin to happen with public schools. So by the year 2020, every school district will have a foundation."
To date, the foundation has funded $285,000 of district projects. With hopes to make more of an impact on the district's budget, Henry says, "We are just now embarking on a collaborative effort to ensure that what we fund is what the school board needs, so we're not funding anything less than necessary."