Home-Grown Education Foundations Can Help With School Finances

By Charles K. Trainor

Earlier this year, Minnesota’s Albert Lea School District was confronted with the possible elimination of its athletic department, two elementary school principals, and a high school administrator if its operating tax levy could not be renewed. California’s Carlsbad Unified School District has contemplated the dismissal of 16 classified employees along with reductions in work hours or workdays for another 30 employees. Reductions also were proposed for staff training, maintenance contracts, and supplies and materials.

Around the country, school districts often struggle to meet the educational needs of their children while finding the necessary funds to do so. Budget shortfalls occur for many reasons. Deficits can result from situations such as the removal of a large parcel of land from the tax rolls, cuts in state aid, or reduced school tax revenues related to declines in local economic activity. School districts are expected to do more with less.

The No Child Left Behind Act is just one example of the ever-increasing demands placed on districts to cut costs and improve academic outcomes. In addition to federal mandates, districts are often subjected to requirements issued by the state legislature or department of education. While every board desires to enhance student performance, difficulties arise when insufficient funding is allocated to accomplish goals defined by others.

In most cases, severe financial penalties are associated with noncompliance with federal and state mandates. These penalties may be political, financial, or both. For example, districts may be placed on lists distributed to the media or they may face reductions in state aid or funding allocations.

Painful solutions

Public school districts have few financial alternatives if legislators or district voters do not provide the funding required to achieve mandated results. One possible strategy, of course, is to raise taxes. However, this usually is not a popular solution.

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