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 EfficientGov.com 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.
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).
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.”]