Communities as school revenue streams

It’s school budget season in New York. On my news job most days I see a half dozen stories saying the school revenue picture is bad and likely to get much worse in the next couple years.

In the midst of the gloom, a few schools looking at different ways of operating that are less dependent on state and federal money and more responsible to identified local needs. The project at Greenville High School I discussed in an earlier post is a case in point.

In “The self-sustaining school system,” which ran on the GateHouse News Service this week, Barry Greenfield offers some other options.  Greenfield is editor and publisher of and a selectman in Swampscott MA.

Greenfield says in communities of under 50,000 (which describes the home communities of most upstate school districts) rethinking a school as “a self-sustaining revenue facility” presents a way to address school budgetary problems as well as wider community problems.

He suggests several specific areas ripe for development by entrepreneurial-minded school districts.

Community programming

Schools could become places where new and existing programs, non-profit or for-profit, could find a home. If day-care, sports programs for children and adults, and instruction in arts and music were moved into school settings, they could generate revenue for the schools.  The Canajoharie NY  Central School District does this in a modest way with its  Fitness Center.

Greenfield also suggests the educational component include “serious computer training” that would enable students to graduate high school with saleable skills even if they don’t go on to college: CAD/CAM, computer programming, graphic design.  He says:

All children should leave high school with the ability to NOT have to afford college and still play a role in the information economy, which is now global.

I’d add web business skills such as search engine optimization and social media marketing to his list.

Surely if schools can sell ad space on school buses to subsidize their programs, they could rent space for a karate instructor or piano teacher to give lessons, possibly requiring some donated lessons for district students.


Greenfield suggests schools create opportunities for children to grow food—from gardens to fish farms—both as a learning tool and as a step toward school self-sufficiency. He thinks students ought to have opportunities to learn to cook as a life-skill and a way of opening students to job opportunities for those who don’t go to college.

Especially in rural districts, when students don’t know where milk comes from before it gets to the grocery store there’s a serious educational problem.  And studies show when students are involved in growing their own produce, they are more likely to eat foods outside the three main food groups (by which they mean pizza, burgers, and fries).

Medical clinic

Greenfield suggests schools outsource medical care, so they don’t have the expense of hiring an RN but parents get the benefit of a “doctor’s office” at the school. Inexpensive rent might lure a doctor to a rural, medically underserved area when combined with a ready-made market on the doorstep.


Most school facilities are used only part of the day, but must be heated, cooled and maintained 24/7, 52-weeks a year.  In many communities, the school sports programs have the expertise and infrastructure to operate year-round sports programs that could provide a significant revenue stream for the school. When municipal budgets are squeezed, schools could pick up the slack and do it profitably, Greenfield suggests.


Most communities of any size have a public library and a school library. By having a community-school library instead, tax dollars could be saved. And if the library has ample computer equipment, serious computer training of both students and adults could take place at the library.

Clearly some folks are getting serious about providing education at the community level. The rest of us have not yet begun to think.

It’s time we did.

[2017-01-26 updated link to “The self-sustaining school system.”]

3 thoughts on “Communities as school revenue streams

  1. Thank you for this article. Our friend Michael J. pointed me here, and I couldn't agree with you more, except for perhaps one minor issue. I'm not convinced that we need formalized technical training (with computers as you say,) as opposed to simply providing tech outlets for people to use in ubiquitous ways within these "community schools." Tech is growing less expensive all the time, and I think the real value is shifting from hardware tools and the software they process, to the information that both handle. The value is in the information. Tech is becoming more intuitive every day, and this intuitiveness will enable people to divine their own purpose for using digital tech… end-run training will be left to the specific and advanced learning circles (programs) that people find themselves drawn toward as a result of their ubiquitous exposure to tech tools and the information they make so available.I have written a good bit about this concept you describe… I call it "EduKARE." Would appreciate your comments at [broken link removed 2016-01-22]


  2. Credit where credit is due, Sean: the suggestions were Greenfield's. My role is primarily to say, "Hey, let's look at schools a different way." I think that discussion needs to be location-specific. I could argue both sides of the tech training issue. (Our friend Michael J. may have told you I find argument as much fun as he does.) In my area, for example, going to a website for information is an idea that hasn't penetrated. People seem to use the Internet as they use a cell phone: to chat with family and friends. They don't have what you call "ubiquitous exposure to tech tools and information." The village does not have a website, the town does not have a website, the library does not have a website. Except in official membership lists, I can find no trace of any local school administrator, or school board member, village board member, or town board member online. Even accessing technology can be difficult, as I discussed elsewhere on this blog. I am not saying my local community's technology use is the norm in the US or even in New York State. I bring it up merely to illustrate of the idea that each community is unique and has to find its own solutions. I'll prove I'm not a robot and turn the discussion back over to you.


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