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Articles: Business & Finance

It has been another tough spring for school districts across the nation. The economic crisis of the past two years is hitting school systems hard as districts plan for the 2010-2011 school year. State support to schools continues to decline, and the "soft landing" afforded by federal stimulus monies is a thing of the past. School districts must cut costs but find their options constrained by restrictive labor agreements in addition to the collective bargaining process itself. If ever there was a time for a new approach to bargaining, it is now.

A summer job for a 16-year-old typically involves serving coffee, scooping ice cream, or babysitting the neighborhood children. Some students at Miami-Dade County (Fla.) Public Schools, however, spent their summer vacation designing a children's Web site for the city of Miami Beach. An increasing number of students are finding themselves mingling among professionals with internships in local businesses—the culmination of a work-based learning curriculum.

Status of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) Funding as of March 31, 2010

Source: U.S. Department of Education

In more districts than ever, Response-to-Intervention programs are gaining ground, nipping learning problems in the bud and keeping more students out of special education classes when they truly need intervention, which, of course, is the goal.

For those districts seeking to construct, renovate, rehabilitate or acquire land, the National Education Technology Funding Corporation, or "Eddie Tech," has made an innovative program to simplify the process of accessing low-cost financing. Eddie Tech's School Investment Pooled-Securities (SIPS) Program is bringing together tax-credit Qualified School Construction Bonds (QSCBs) and creating larger and more marketable collections that are more desirable for investors.

When registration opened at 7 a.m. on Feb. 23 for kindergarten at the Evanston/Skokie School District 65, about 120 parents in the suburban Chicago K8 district were already lined up, as if waiting for tickets to a hot rock concert.

A greater awareness of the impact of sports-related concussions has swept the country, as over 40 states are currently developing legislation that will set standards for when a student athlete can return to the playing field. Although these laws vary by state, the core principles include educating students, coaches, and parents about the dangers of concussions, removing athletes from the field if a concussion is suspected, and requiring medical clearance before they may return.

The great teacher exodus is upon us, according to the National Commission on Teaching and America's Future (NCTAF), an organization that promotes quality teaching in schools. "Who Will Teach? Experience Matters," released by the organization in January 2010, notes that between 2004 and 2008 more than 300,000 veteran teachers left the workforce. New teachers, however, have a steep turnover rate, making it a struggle to fill the void.

By the time James G. Merrill became superintendent of Virginia Beach (Va.) City Public Schools (VBCPS) in 2006, there wasn't much to improve statistically. The district ranked first in reading proficiency among the neighboring seven cities and first on the combined SAT; all schools had earned full Standards of Learning (SOL) accreditation from the Virginia Department of Education; and even the relationship between its elected school board, the community and administrators was harmonious.

The word "globalization" doesn't often conjure images of the U.S. heartland, but one Oklahoma district is going global through an innovative approach to teaching foreign language. Jenks Public Schools Superintendent Kirby Lehman is a strong supporter of foreign language and cultural integration. His appreciation for Chinese education led him to create Chinese language and exchange programs for Jenks Middle School and Jenks High School.

While investigating a tip that a student had a picture of another, partially nude, female student on his cell phone, Ting-Yei Oei, assistant principal at Freedom High School in Loudoun County, Va., asked the student to e-mail the picture to his own cell phone. This seemingly tech-savvy way to preserve physical evidence had devastating consequences for Oei. The incident led to angry accusations from a parent, an investigation by police, and Oei's being charged with "failure to report child abuse" and felony possession of child pornography.


In 2003, the information specialists of Henrico County (Va.) Public Schools (HCPS) noticed that the district's newly hired librarians had a substantial turnover rate. The district, consisting of over 48,000 students, 6,500 staff members, and 63 schools sprawling across suburban Richmond, was retaining a mere 56 percent of new librarian hires.

"We've got to be willing to do something about test scores and to deal with ineffective teachers who have tenure and are hiding behind the union. It's coming to a head where the public is saying, 'We've had it now,'" declares David Cicarella of the New Haven (Conn.) Public Schools.

Statements like this one have become commonplace among reform-minded school leaders around the country. What makes Cicarella's comments remarkable is that they are not coming from a frustrated superintendent or enterprising principal, but from the president of the city schools' teachers union.

From costly lawsuits on behalf of victims to negative media coverage, such as the one recently played out in the District of Columbia Public Schools when Chancellor Michelle Rhee stated that one teacher was laid off for suspicion of sexual misconduct, districts can face potentially devastating consequences as a result of sexual abuse of their students by district employees.

Many are aware of the practical implications of sexual harassment of students by school staff, but such situations can also have considerable legal implications, as well.

While the legal aspects of staff-to-student sexual harassment take a back seat to the moral and emotional considerations, the legal framework provides school administrators with a helpful basis for drafting policies, conducting investigations, and making decisions.