Surviving the school budget crisis

Many Canadian schools entered the 2010-11 school year with serious budget shortfalls, with predictions that next year won’t be much different. Schools in Nova Scotia may be in for some particularly tight times: there have been recent talks of cutting school budgets there by as much as 22%.These gaps in budget can quickly become gaps in student achievement without a bit of resourcefulness, creativity and optimism from administrators, educators and parents alike. We’ve got a few ideas to get you started on the path to success, even when the purse strings get tightened!

Take a transparent approach
When budget cuts hit the news, parents and community members can begin to speculate. Don’t let rumours of the effects of school budget cuts run rampant—communicate frequently your school’s financial standing and an action plan for foreseeable cuts. Anticipate parent questions and concerns in order to develop talking points for school administrators and teachers alike. School administrators should also take efforts to make themselves available for questions—consider distributing planners with budgetary meeting dates and details already penciled in, along with contact information to help direct inquiries throughout the year.

Make a call for all hands on deck
Ask for parents and family members to commit to regular volunteer hours to reduce costs. At the next parent-teacher conferences, offer a fun and affordable takeaway, like hand clappers with a note that asks parents to lend a hand.

Explore school-business partnerships
Grants or sponsorships aren’t exactly an overlooked source, but some schools simply don’t take full advantage of them or become overwhelmed at the task of grant writing and fundraising. The truth is, many local businesses may be open to less formal but equally advantageous partnerships through in-kind donations. Instead of shelling out funds on classroom books and supplies, toiletries, rugs, furniture, electronics and more, approach local hardware and retail stores for donations. National chains often have more formal grant programs readily available for big ticket items, too.Tap local community colleges and universities for partnerships in business classes, media electives or chemistry labs—offering students access to high-end facilities and equipment with little investment from the public school system. In turn, colleges and universities can gain exposure by reaching out to prospective students.

Go paperless
Many schools have saved big bucks by simply reducing or eliminating the amount of or the kind of paper products used throughout the school. Switching from bleached napkins to brown recycled ones, reducing the number of plies in selected toilet paper and paper towels or asking students to bring in a ream of printer paper for use in the library or computer labs are all popular options. Some schools have even found success in experimenting with new forms of communications tools, like the U.S.-based SchoolReach® notification system that helps eliminate mailers by augmenting items sent home with students with voicemail message alerts.

The Bynum Independent School District in Texas reports that SchoolReach® has helped increase productivity and save more than US$6,000 per year in postage and other mail-related costs. In Canada, Richmond, B.C.-based software company Minek Sysems offers a School Messaging solution that enables schools to deploy mass voicemail and SMS messages to keep parents in the loop about everything.

Create a wish-list
Throughout the year, keep an ongoing list of items needed in the classroom and the front office that can be donated by parents and community members. Post the list online, in local publications and throughout the school. Encourage teachers to keep wish-lists in their individual classrooms, too. They can even keep a list in a protective binder to send home with a different student from week to week.

Save by going green
There are many aspects of green that can be cost effective over time and appealing to many environmentally conscientious parents and community members—things like water-saving faucets and energy-saving plumbing, the construction of solar panels or using energy-efficient light bulbs and appliances are all increasingly popular options for many schools. Light bulb-shaped Pencils are a great way to spread awareness of this benefit.

Keep spirits up
Don’t let tight budgets interfere with school pride. While working through any cuts, simultaneously up the ante on school spirit campaigns in order to rally support from teachers, parents and students. Keeping students in a positive and upbeat environment can help to distract from cuts that might directly affect their day to day activities. Hold pep rallies, recruit students to make posters and signs declaring school pride and brighten their day with affordable items to boost the mood like spirit backpacks or wristbands.

All in all, budget cuts could be coming to a school near you—if they haven’t already. The good news is that we can get through it together while providing quality education and a dose of school spirit.

“Budget cuts will ‘gut’ schools” boards” CBC News. Web. 29 Nov. 2010.

Stansbury, Meris. “Seven Proven Ways to save on School Budgets | Funding | ESchoolNews.com.” ESchool News, School Technology News and Resources for Today’s K-12 and Higher-Ed Educators. Web. 30 Nov. 2010.

“School Messaging.” Minek Systems. Web. 06 Dec 2010.

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