Monday, September 01, 2008

Credit Crunch and Real Estate Meltdown Impacting Schools...

The question is not if, but when, the current financial crisis spreads to impact Northern New York and specifically our local school districts. There is more than a little irony in the fact that principle county in the story in today's NY Times is Jefferson County....

"At the same time, the district is struggling with its own financial problems. Responding to a cut of $43 million by the state in education spending and to higher energy and other costs, school officials in Jefferson County have raised lunch prices, eliminated 17 buses by reorganizing routes, ordered drivers to turn off vehicles rather than letting them idle and increased property taxes."

Clearly schools and the taxpayers are in a difficult spot. Costs are rising for schools - fuel, food, heating, benefits, etc., while there is little or no room to raise revenues through increased taxes given the difficult domestic economic backdrop. There is no single solution to getting through this crisis, but schools need to be creative thinkers and look at options outside the box. Case in point......

"The Caldwell Parish School District, in northern Louisiana, took a more sweeping approach to saving fuel by eliminating Monday classes. The district joined about 100 systems nationwide, most of them rural, that in recent years have adopted a four-day schedule."

Moves like this are not likely to have a substantial impact on budgets but they demonstrate important creative thinking that has been absent from our national education system for years. Consider the latest move from many Boston school districts to institute large fees for extracurricular fees for participation in activities like football.

"Schools throughout greater Boston are raising fees for sports and other activities. While it's not a property tax increase, the school fees are yet another way local governments are reaching into the pockets of parents to raise money.

North of Boston, for example, Hamilton-Wenham football games will cost close to $100 a pop this fall. That's not for seats on the 50-yard line, but what players who suit up for the Generals pay to play: a $969 user fee, the highest for football in communities north of Boston."

Given the current budget crunch in NYS I think it makes sense to watch for best practices to emerge from other districts around the nation that lower costs or find alternative sources of funding.



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