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Schools in today's economy: creative tactics they are using to save money.

Limited spending capabilities and smaller budgets have forced schools to take some creative approaches to save money. Here's a sampling of what's currently being done at schools across the United States:

* According to the Chicago Tribune (7/18/10), Illinois will eliminate the state writing exam for elementary and junior high students for the second time in the last 10 years. Although many are concerned that this decision will impact students' writing skills, there is no debate about the savings that will result from the decision: $3.5 million to be exact. Students in 11th grade will still be given the state-wide writing test in preparation for university requirements.

The vast majority of states have retained writing exams, even in this tough economy, said Nikki Elliott-Schuman, who currently oversees the state of Washington's writing assessment. She believes that having a writing exam signals that writing is a priority and that teachers should spend time on writing instruction. "I think it has a huge impact (to drop the exam)," she said. "I think what you test is what you value."

The last time Illinois eliminated writing tests was during the 2004-05 academic year, also because of state budget shortfalls. The State received national criticism from writing advocates for this decision. According to the Tribune, the tests were "reinstated in phases for different grades, beginning in 2006-07)."

* Budget cuts may force students into non-classroom settings more often this year, as New York City and the state of New York seek to slash education funding, reported SILive.com (7/19/10). Staten Island schools, in particular, are facing an estimated $60 million cutback. To help offset these cuts, public school principals have indicated that they will be cutting funding for substitute teachers.

Schools will likely place children in an auditorium for the day, where they will be watched by a school aide. Principals have been telling teachers about this plan, with the hope that this will deter them from calling in sick.

Some educators are upset about this decision. "You're not helping anyone if you're coming to work sick," said Emil Pietromonaco, the Staten Island representative for the United Federation of Teachers. "We're not asking people to take extra days off or holidays or whatever. But if people are sick, their classes should be covered."

Pietromonaco said if a substitute teacher isn't available, students are often split up and placed in other classes, increasing class sizes and making learning difficult for everyone, reported SILIVE.com. Or, they are placed in "mass prep" or an auditorium. The New York City Department of Education frowns on these scenarios, but for some principals, mass prep is their only option.

* Approximately 1.4 million California students will experience a shorter school year, despite the fact that education experts are encouraging more classroom time. According to the San Francisco Chronicle (7/19/10), 16 of the state's 30 largest school districts are reducing the number of days in the academic year because of the State's current budget crisis.

"This is a major setback," said Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell. "We're reducing opportunities for our students, which puts California students at a competitive disadvantage relative to other states." Despite this disadvantage, schools that cut just days will yield large savings. In some cases, savings could be as much as $145 million.

School districts throughout California will cut days from the school calendar by granting teachers and other staff unpaid furlough days. Schools will also eliminate days that don't include students, such as class preparation days, training or parent conferences.

* The Pasco School Board (Florida) has directed the superintendent to eliminate the equivalent of at least one job per school with the goal of saving $4.3 million to help offset an anticipated shortfall, reported the St. Petersburg Times (7/16/10). As a result, the district administration has eliminated 167 teaching positions and 123 non-instructional spots, with all but 22 employees getting placed in other vacancies. The superintendent has also frozen all hiring.

* It will now cost students to play high school sports at many schools. "Pay to play," as it is most often referred to, has become a new trend at public schools around the country, reported TCPalm.com (7/25/10). "The recession we are in has put this thing in a steam-roll," said Certified Athletic Administrator Scott J. Smith, a sports management professor at Central Michigan University who studied "pay to play" as part of a dissertation. "... A lot of athletic directors are seeing substantial cuts to their budgets, and it's become an accepted piece of society."

According to Smith, California and Massachusetts were credited for starting "pay to play" in the 1970s. It gained momentum in the Midwest, Far West and Northeast in the 1990s and early 2000s, and now other areas are turning in that direction as a last resort to keep from cutting sports, reported TCPalm.com.

Schools utilizing this approach generally charge a once-a-year fee, like St. Lucie County Schools (Florida), which charged a processing fee of $50 last year and Indian River County Schools (Florida), which will implement a $65 "participation fee" this year. Another approach that some schools take is to charge students for each sport they play, such as $75 for the first sport or $100 for two.

"This is a big and bold step for the school district of Indian River County, but the fact is without it, we won't be able to fund the programs," Sebastian River athletic director Michael Stutzke said. "The average high school in the state of Florida is going to find it increasingly difficult to fund its athletic programs with the economy the way it is, and the foreseeable future does not look bright for funding in public education, so if we want to continue to enjoy the breadth of programs we have, you best get creative with the way you fund your programs. Pay to participate is just one way to fund the basics of your program."

RELATED ARTICLE: School District Asks for Help to Fund Athletic Transportation

The Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) will be asking parents to help offset the cost of busing student athletes to high school sporting events this year, reported Dailybreeze.com (7/28/10). The school district is financially challenged and if enough money isn't raised, games could be cancelled.

Families of student athletes, cheerleaders, drill team and band members, and other "auxiliary" groups will be asked to give $24 per student at the beginning of fall, winter and spring sports seasons, with the goal of covering $650,000 that was cut from the athletics transportation budget. The one time contribution is voluntary and not paying will not prevent students from being able to participate.

"If we are not successful, our only recourse would be to have to eliminate some contests--and we absolutely do not want to have to do that," said Barbara Fiege, LAUSD's director of interscholastic athletics.

A letter from Fiege that will be distributed to parents reads in part: "The Los Angeles Unified School District is proud of the athletic program and wants to continue to provide these programs to our students. With your help, we will be able to offer all sport teams to our students and our school communities."

For some students, finding the money for the contribution could be difficult. Ed Lalau, football coach at Gardena High School (CA) is planning to have players raise funds by soliciting advertisements for game programs. "You can feel the currents of the economy hitting us now. I don't know if there's a way around it," Lalau said. "You don't expect this in a school system where you think everything should be free."

According to officials, students who can't make the contribution will not be penalized. Any shortfall will be spread out across the district.

The one-time fee will cover the student for the whole year, regardless of the number of seasons they play.

Richard Vladovic, who represents the Harbor Area, Carson, Gardena and Lomita on the LAUSD school board, knows that financial shortfalls have forced many school districts to reduce their athletic budgets. According to Dailybreeze.com, he has urged outside groups to make contributions to the district. "These are tough times and we are exploring every avenue--including seeking corporate and philanthropic gifts, as well as local sports celebrities with an interest in ensuring that all children be provided with the same opportunity they had to participate in sports. We are asking anybody in the extended LAUSD family to donate as much as they can," said Vladovic.

Local nonprofits already raised funds this past spring to cover a $1.4 million shortfall in the sports budget. Their "Save Our Sports" initiative raised the money needed to cover stipends for nearly 600 coaches; without that money, the sports teams would no longer exist.
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Title Annotation:Special Report
Publication:Curriculum Review
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 1, 2010
Words:1471
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