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Articles: Budget

Booster club members attend a session presented by the National Booster Club Training Council.

Sports teams in a growing number of school districts can only return to their fields, gymnasiums, rinks and pools each September with the support of parent-run booster clubs. As budgets tighten, these clubs, which have provided high school athletes with everything from uniforms to scoreboards to travel money for competitions or games, are expanding into elementary and middle schools.

Superintendent Joshua Starr of Montgomery County Public Schools in Maryland crouches to speak with students in class. He is determined to support student programs during lean budget times.

Five years after the Great Recession officially ended, many superintendents continue to grapple with educating today’s students and preparing for tomorrow’s—with yesterday’s funding levels. The worst recession since the Great Depression lasted from December of 2007 to June of 2009, according to the federal government, and many superintendents are only now starting to glimpse limited financial relief.

The beginning of the school year brings new construction projects in many districts, including Rockford Public Schools in Illinois and North Shore Central School District in New York.

At Rockford Public Schools, a district of 28,000 students in Illinois, all four of the district’s high schools were under heavy construction over the summer that will continue throughout the school year.

Ulrich Boser, senior fellow at the Center for American Progress

School districts that spend more per pupil do not necessarily perform better, according to a new report from the Center for American Progress.

After examining more than 7,000 districts nationwide, researchers found that only 37 percent of the districts in the top third in spending were also in the top third in achievement.

Joplin Public Schools in Missouri opened the doors to the brand new Joplin High School/Franklin Technology Center on Aug. 25.

The original high school, along with a technical school, two elementary schools and a middle school, was destroyed in May 2011 after a tornado devastated the area.

Though physical book collections are shrinking in many districts, the role of librarians or media specialists is expanding.

About one-third of public schools do not have a full-time, state-certified librarian.

Members of the American Library Association call it a national crisis, as colleges and careers increasingly require students to have expansive digital literacy skills. Some 20 percent of public school libraries do not have any full- or part-time state-certified librarians, according to a 2013 report from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES).

Nathan Levenson, senior managing director of the District Management Council, says school budgets will continue to be tight in coming years.

District budgets are likely to be tight for years to come, experts say—and a new report outlines strategies administrators can use to spend wisely during financially constrained times. “Spending Money Wisely: Getting the Most from School District Budgets,” published in May, compiles savings tips recommended by superintendents, think tanks and professors.

Safety, flexibility and energy efficiency are the forces driving new school construction as administrations create buildings to rival college facilities to prepare students for the technology-driven world they will find in college and the workforce.

With new, smarter building technology to control energy use, school leaders can reduce their carbon footprint and use the money saved to fund projects that may have suffered from budget cuts. U.S. schools spend more on energy than they do “on computers and textbooks combined,” according to a past report by Energy Star.

“As much as 30 percent of a district’s total energy is used inefficiently or unnecessarily,” the report states.

A tornado safe room under construction in Moore, Oklahoma.

Tornadoes sweeping through parts of the nation and destroying schools are leading district leaders to create “safe rooms” for increased protection.

In May 2013, Moore, Okla., was hit by a tornado that destroyed two elementary schools and killed seven students. Moore Public Schools is rebuilding the schools with four safe rooms designed to meet Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) criteria to provide protection during tornadoes.

Preschool students in the Granite School District receive Common Core-aligned instruction to prepare for kindergarten.

High-quality preschools in a Utah district began receiving funds from a first-of-its-kind, $4.6 million social impact bond from investment banking firm Goldman Sachs last fall. The goal is to improve instruction in order to prevent students from needing special education or remedial services.

Superintendent Garza speaks with an elementary student. Garza hopes to reduce achievement gaps between white students and minority students.

When Superintendent Karen Garza started her job at Fairfax County Public Schools in Virginia last July, she had barely unpacked when she found a perfect storm of budget planning: increased enrollment, deferred retirement system contributions and a major uptick in students needing ESOL services.

Go Public: A Day in the Life of an American School District is a recently-released documentary film about Pasadena USD that shows the challenges, triumphs and personalities of a moderate-sized public school system.

It was compromise that prevented a major teacher’s strike in February, as Portland Public Schools and the local union struck a bargain during an intense 24 hours of negotiating that ended months of deliberations.

International students and their U.S. classmates from Newcomb Central School District in New York go for a hike in the nearby Adirondack Mountains.

Districts hurting financially are recruiting tuition-paying foreign students to increase enrollment and diversity.

The number of international high school students coming to the United States with an F-1 education visa increased to nearly 65,500 in 2012, up from 6,500 in 2007, according to federal data.

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