Linking Schools and Businesses

By Naomi Dillon

Without doubt, officials at Florida’s Manatee County Public Schools had to make some painful choices over the last several years, slashing some $60 million from its budget since 2008. But the district was able to avoid the most draconian cuts in large part because of the ties school leaders built with their business community.

“We’ve been able to keep the arts intact and preserve the core issues at a time when most districts haven’t,” says Board Chairman Harry Kinnan. “As the economy went down, [businesses] became critical to our success.”

Long considered ancillary to school districts’ everyday duties and long-term mission, business partnerships have come into sharp focus and sharp demand as public education continues to take a beating from a struggling economy that has yet to fully recover.

According to the nonprofit Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, 31 states collectively trimmed $55 billion from their budgets for the current fiscal year. While it’s a smaller figure than in years past -- in 2010, for instance, states had to contend with a $191 billion shortfall -- budget deficits still fall disproportionately on school systems, which will have to accommodate 540,000 more students than they did in the 2007-08 school year.

Increasingly, school districts are joining forces with area businesses, who are finding they need schools as much as schools need them to build a successful future.

“Having these partnerships with businesses allows you to fill holes in your budget but also build ties in the community in different ways,” Kinnan says. “The closer you are to people, the more involved they’ll get in the system, and the more involved they get, the more you are able to build consensus on the importance of good schools.”

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