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Articles: Business & Finance

When upgrading security, can districts afford to wait the weeks or months the purchasing process sometimes takes? A widely available but not very well-known funding option can speed things up.

We know there is a sense of urgency around funding safer schools—just think about the title of President Obama’s school safety plan: Now is the Time! The good news is that for district leaders who are willing to explore a new purchasing method, time and cost savings may be on the way.

The median revenues per pupil for public schools were $12,054 in fiscal year 2011, while the expenditures per student were $10,326, says a report on K12 finances from the National Center for Education Statistics.

School districts reported revenues of just over $607 billion in fiscal year 2011, with about 43 percent of the money ($264.6 billion) coming from local governments and 44 percent ($267.8 billion) provided by states. The federal government added just under $75 billion (12.3 percent).

Parents of more than three quarters of K12 students think the amount of homework given is appropriate, and many of the adults surveyed also said they help their children with the assignments, says a report on parental involvement from the National Center for Education Statistics.

North Carolina, a state once seen at the forefront of progressive education policy, has become a battleground where reformers and teachers’ advocates are clashing over a wide-ranging new voucher program and the elimination of tenure-based pay.

Test scores improved and teacher salaries hovered at the national average under former Gov. Jim Hunt’s second term, from 1993-2001. Now, teacher pay in North Carolina is 46th in the nation and the number of schools meeting federal performance measures is consistently low, according to the state Department of Public Instruction.

A first-of-its-kind coalition of five of the nation’s largest districts is working to improve the reputation and quality of school food. The Urban School Food Alliance celebrated its one-year anniversary this summer, and includes districts in New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, Miami-Dade, Dallas, and Orlando.

The superintendent of the K12 school district where I first taught held a drive each September to encourage teachers to join state and national education associations beyond our local union. We knew that participation, at least in the NEA—which functioned as a professional association in some states and a labor union in others—was not really optional, especially because our enrollment level at 100 percent was announced each year as a matter of pride.

A Nebraska superintendent has added his own program to the increasing number of academies designed to teach his peers critical management skills that they may not have learned during their formal education.

Keith Lutz, superintendent of Millard Public Schools in Omaha, Neb., worked with two professors from the University of Nebraska to develop the Midlands Superintendent Academy for new administrators. Classes, which began this fall at the university, focus on topics such as strategic planning, structuring district administrations, and marketing.

Michael Flanagan, superintendent of the Michigan Department of Education and chair of the state board of education

Michael Flanagan, superintendent of the Michigan Department of Education and chair of the state board of education, received the Distinguished Service Award from NASBE. Since taking the job in 2005, he has spearheaded a push for more rigorous high school graduation requirements.

School districts working to close budget gaps are increasingly requiring parents to pay fees for their children’s textbooks, lab materials, computers, and after-school activities.

It’s a regrettable but widespread trend, says Bruce Hunter, associate executive director of advocacy, policy and communications at the School Superintendents Association. “The recession lasted longer and cut deeper than anyone thought it would,” Hunter says. “Districts try to charge as little as possible, because it’s not popular. It’s a last resort.”

Jack Martin took the helm of Detroit Public Schools in July as the district’s new emergency manager, with goals of getting the academically and financially troubled district back on track. Three days after his appointment, Detroit filed for bankruptcy.

It is the largest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history, with roots in the decline of the auto industry and racial tensions that drove residents out to the suburbs.

A basic economic principle of supply and demand is taking hold in the Douglas County (Colo.) School District. The district is restructuring the pay scale for teachers and educators so the positions that are most in demand get paid more than those in lower demand.

Otha Thornton was elected president of the National Parent Teacher Association, making history as the first African-American male leader of the organization. He previously served on the Georgia PTA board of directors, and the PTA’s national board of directors.

Patrick Sweeney spoke at last spring’sTannersville’s Memorial Day Observance, where community and American Legion members gathered. Photo credit: Bob Mazon

Patrick Darfler Sweeney, superintendent of Hunter-Tannersville Central School District nestled in the Catskill Mountains just a couple of hours north of New York City, took the bull by the horns. While nearly half the district’s students receive free or reduced-price lunch, Sweeney was tired of seeing budget cuts that interfered with delivering an exceptional student experience. In February, he developed a bold master consolidation plan, presenting it to the New York State Education Department (NYSED) and other government and non-governmental organizations.

Chris Belcher, superintendent of Columbia (Mo.) Public Schools, recognizes an outstanding teachers as part of the district’s educator of the year recognitions in 2012.

Teacher evaluation may be the hottest—and most divisive—topic in education right now. From Florida to Missouri and Nevada to Minnesota, state legislatures are debating bills that would tie teacher assessment to student achievement. Meanwhile, school districts are revamping their systems, and superintendents are trying to balance the often-conflicting demands of teachers, unions, state-imposed rules, and good educational practice.

Schools feeling an increasing need to provide student mental health services are partnering with nonprofits to open on-campus clinics as budget cuts have left many districts with fewer psychologists, counselors, and social workers.