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Articles: Business & Finance

Charles K. Trainor says an audit committee is an in-house, fail-safe mechanism that helps superintendents and the school board to identify risks and suggest solutions.

Tough economic conditions and shrinking revenues have increased competition for public funds. As a result, school districts are under intense scrutiny from state regulators and local taxpayers; any fiscal mismanagement receives harsh criticism.

Coming this fall, students at six of the nation’s largest urban districts will be served lunch on round plates made of biodegradable sugar cane.

Six of the nation’s biggest school districts have taken another bold step in changing the face of school lunches. The districts in the Urban School Food Alliance—New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, Miami-Dade, Dallas, and Orlando—have banded together to purchase biodegradable trays made of sugar cane to cut down on both cost and waste.

Reports of districts eliminating school nurses or replacing them with unlicensed staffers are increasing nationwide, and student health care is suffering as a result, nursing advocates say. Among nurses’ responsibilities is caring for the estimated 3 million children with food allergies—a number representing an 18 percent increase from 1997 to 2007, according to the Centers for Disease Control—and the 7.1 million children with asthma.

Students in the Orange County School District in North Carolina, above left, have sturdy laptops thanks to a blend of funding from a county sales tax and the district’s capital budget.

Prepare for all expenses

Implementing a 1-to-1 program involves more than just buying or leasing tablets or laptops, notes Terry Haas, chief financial officer of Mooresville Graded School District. District leaders also need to prepare for other costs, including setting up wired or wireless networking, and servers needed to support the additional computers and software. Technology staff also needs to be hired or expanded.

New Irving ISD Superintendent Jose Parra previously led the much smaller Lockhart ISD in Texas

Jose Parra became superintendent of Irving ISD in Texas in December. Parra was superintendent of the 5,000-student Lockhart ISD, where he helped raise test scores and graduation rates. He aims to continue his efforts in Irving, which has 35,000 students—that’s seven times the size of Lockhart.

Texas’ teacher merit pay system, once the largest in the nation with early successful results, was eliminated in a summer legislative session due to massive cuts to the state’s education budget. The small amount of funding that remains has been converted into a competitive grant for improving instruction in low-income districts.

Students at Valley Christian School in San Jose, Calif., buy healthy snacks like coconut water, unsalted nuts and fresh fruit, from a high-tech HUMAN Healthy Vending machine.

As school leaders shift to selling healthier products in their vending machines, they can also take the opportunity to change their business model and consider investing in high-tech machines for a range of benefits.

Stephen Falcone resigned as superintendent of Darien Public Schools in Connecticut after the district was found to have violated special education laws. (Megan L. Spicer/Darien News)

Superintendent resigns

Stephen Falcone, superintendent of Darien Public Schools in Connecticut, resigned in October after a state Department of Education report found the district violated special education laws on multiple occasions during the 2012-2013 school year.

Philadelphia schools almost didn’t open this fall, after a $304 million budget cut forced 4,000 layoffs. Though $45 million in state emergency aid released in October is helping make progress toward recovery, the district remains without basic services that most administrators take for granted, such as vice principals and secretaries in every school.

Until recently, only rural districts hoping to save money on busing geographically spread-out students had cut the school week down to four days. But now, while some districts are leaning toward year-round schedules, some are actually shortening the week as budgets continue to drop and state officials allow scheduling flexibility.

Teachers are the single most important factor in student learning. Yet, our field as a whole spends little time ensuring that only the best teachers enter our classrooms—and even less time ensuring that the best teachers feel supported.

At Batavia Public Schools in Illinois, administrators gather with CIO Anton Inglese. From left to right, Kris Mon, assistant superintendent of finance; Superintendent Lisa Hichens, Inglese, and Steve Pearce, assistant superintendent for human resources.

WANTED: CHIEF INFORMATION OFFICER: Looking for a technology expert, experienced with Mac and PC; servers; mobile technologies—including smartphones, tablets, laptops, and netbooks; coding; and helpdesk. Must be a strong people person and a great communicator, coach, and teacher, used to juggling multiple projects simultaneously, a team player, and always willing to pitch in. Comfortable in a fast-paced environment. People who have one way of doing things need not apply.

Just five years ago, a student information system was used to take attendance and add or change grades. The tech director chose one, installed it and, in about two minutes, showed teachers how to use it.

Now, “it’s a portal for teachers to send assignments and for parents, students, and teachers to communicate with each other,” says Melissa Tebbenkamp, director of instructional technology at Raytown Quality Schools in Missouri.

The shift in CIO responsibilities has also trickled down to the rest of the tech team. No longer is it enough to be knowledgeable in computers. IT employees must have strong people skills as well. Here’s what CIOs said they look for:

Districts that don’t have a full time chief technology officer may have a harder time keeping up with E-rate modernization and the shift to online testing, technology experts say.

Hundreds of educators are pressing for increased funding for E-rate, the government program that connects schools and libraries to the internet—especially important, given Common Core requirements for online assessment.