Schools Find Creative Budget Solutions

By<a href="">Tamala Edwards</a> and Jody Hassett

Aug. 13, 2003 -- In Texas' Grapevine-Colleyville school district, just about everything is up for sale or rent … except the kids. The district needs to close a $5 million budget gap.

The district's printing press wasn't being used after hours. But last year it turned a profit — $30,000 — by cranking out copies for the city government.

Parking spaces outside the high school football stadium are usually empty except for night games. Now they are rented out during business hours to a company across the street. "This parking lot is making me $87,000 a year," said school superintendent Kevin Singer," which pays for the salary of two teachers."

Singer has had to learn on the job about this kind of creative financing. "When I went to school nobody ever talked about the superintendent's role in revenue enhancement," he said. "I've never had a class in that. Never even has a lecture on it, so these are new territories for me."

The district is selling ad space on the side of buses to local business. Dr Pepper pays to advertise on a large sign outside the high school stadium and on the roof of one school building — a sign big enough for planes overhead to see.

School officials also are marketing summer classes where parents pay for their kids to learn in more creative learning situations. The students master fractions in a cooking class and grasp the basics of science in a rocket-building tutorial.

In a community hit hard by layoffs, parents still are willing to write a check for a little summer fun for their children.

"I've had parents say 'we're not taking the vacations we used to take. We're not going to be able to go away for three weeks to the beach. So I've enrolled my children in a bunch of these fun classes to compensate for that,' " said Paula Raymond, who teaches several summer classes.

The district also has consolidated some services, which means more hours but barely any more overtime pay for many employees. Transportation coordinator Steve Bond now overseas an additional 85 school buses and 65 more employees than he used to supervise.

"I didn't get angry at all," Bond said. "I looked at it as a challenge, I knew that was a way jobs could be saved."

Grapevine-Colleyville schools have had to cut classroom and library aides, along with some courses. But no teachers have been fired, and education experts say that outweighs any concern about commercializing the schools.

"Will the terrific programs at Grapevine-Colleyville be the answer for either the the school district or school districts across the nation? No. Will it maybe save a teacher? Would it perhaps mean they could offer a program they would otherwise have to drop? Yes, and that could make the difference for kid's lives," according to Ann Bryant, executive director of the National School Boards Association.

For a school district in crisis, it is a creative solution that makes sense.

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