You are here

Articles: Business & Finance

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.

Native American students face a dropout rate of over 12 percent—more than double that of their white peers and higher than that for black and Asian students, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

High teacher turnover rates and few native teachers in the classroom are part of the problem, says David Thomas, a U.S. Department of Education spokesperson. The Indian Education Professional Development Grant seeks to change that by providing Native Americans a chance to earn a bachelor’s or master’s degree and become teachers or administrators.

Students in the Los Angeles Unified School District will no longer face suspension for minor acts like not coming to class prepared or refusing to remove a hat.

Over 50% of all parents, teachers, and administrators regularly update a social networking site, according to the first results of the national Speak Up 2012 survey from Project Tomorrow. And 37% of parents say they wish their child’s teacher or school would communicate with them via text message, though only 23% of teachers say this is a common practice. BYOD is also gaining popularity, with 36% of principals saying they were likely to implement this policy in the 2012-2013 school year.

The total unfunded liability of U.S. teacher pensions is currently anywhere from $390 billion to $1 trillion, according to recent estimates. In an effort to bolster depleting pension funds, some states are enacting laws that cut benefits and require more contributions from employees, according to a June report from the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, “The Big Squeeze: Retirement Costs and School District Budgets.”

It was a daunting project, seemingly impossible to fund with traditional municipal bonds, says Yonkers (N.Y.) Public Schools Superintendent Bernard Pierorazio.

In 2010, a building condition study showed that his district needed $480 million for capital improvements to existing school buildings, while new schools needed to be built given an expected enrollment increase of 3,000 by 2020, for a total of $1.2 billion.

Growing numbers of school districts are entering into public-private partnerships (P3s) to accomplish energy efficiency improvements that will result in cost savings and improved environmental stewardship.

For instance, last year, the Sonoma County Water Agency (SCWA) in California launched its Efficiency Financing Program to fund energy efficiency and water retrofits on local schools. Fifty-four school campuses, two local governments and a nonprofit hospital are currently participating in the program, which is backed by contractually guaranteed cost savings.

A student at the Beech Hill School in the Otis (Maine) School Department learns chemistry in a hands-on science lab over Skype.

Four students in Maine had the unique chance to study organisms on their shoreline this past year to help contribute research to a new chemical bond discovery that Vanderbilt University researchers made three years ago.

Pennsylvania’s Secretary of Education Ron Tomalis observes students and educators participating in the Open Campus PA program.

This past school year has been a little less hectic for busy juniors and seniors at Hempfield High School, thanks to a new, unique online course-sharing initiative.

The Hempfield School District is in a suburban-rural community outside Lancaster, Pa., and is one of three local districts that have implemented Open Campus PA, a program that unites its high school with the nearby Penn Manor and Manheim Township districts’ high schools. The goal is to share teachers and selected online courses, allowing participating students to take online classes on their own time.