Editorial: Why don't we build self-sustaining schools?
Gov1 editor Barry Greenfield acknowledges recent advances in school facilities, but asks why new facilities, run by municipalities, don't include revenue-generating opportunities to offset costs.
While numerous advances in school facilities have taken place over the last quarter century, to what extent have educators teamed up with other facets of the community to consider how a school can become more of a community center?
Just as importantly, the type of community should take on greater priority when developing proposals for the services included within a school. This article does not profess to provide a road map for major cities of population above 50,000. But for all of the cities and towns below that level, these suggestions pertain to you.
For instance, where the percentage of dual-income families is high, there is every reason for a school to offer after school programming until dinner hours and provide cafeteria services for those who may not have a home-cooked meal as an option.
These services need not be offered for free. As a matter of fact, schools must begin to consider how to make themselves more competitive for dollars that are spent by parents on all of the programming and services available after hours and on weekends.
Again, this is where the community center aspect of schooling can lend itself as a self-sustaining revenue facility.
Where I live there are numerous private and/or non-profits that provide day-care, as well as child and adults sports, arts, music and other types of programming.
Consider a state-of-the art facility that houses pre-k to adult-aged programming, all run by a municipality, generating revenue to offset costs. Where does it say that a school system can’t compete with for-profits to offset the cost of free educational programming provided to taxpayers?
There are many options currently not included in school facilities that seem to be a natural fit:
1. Food. If you were building a new facility today, specifically centered around education, why wouldn’t you create an opportunity for children of all ages to create their own food. Whether hydroponics in the basement or a greenhouse on the roof, or maybe even a small fish farm, sustainable farming and healthy diets are key elements in quality of life. michael pollan and others have written extensively on the importance of understanding where food comes from. This is an incredible opportunity to teach children in a hands-on environment. But wait, there’s more! Food grown by the school farm could be used in meals and also sold to parents to bring the school one step closer to self-sustainability. Last but not least, children of all ages should learn the art of cooking. This doesn’t mean all of them should strive to become Emeril Lagasse or Julia Child, but again, cooking is a life skill that opens doors to alternative professions many children would never consider.
2. Medical. Depending on the size of the school, the concept of including a true medical clinic seems to be another natural fit. Especially at the younger ages, where ear infections, strep throat, bumps, scrapes, bruises and other maladies occur so often, how hard of a sell would it be to parents that their children will be treated on site instead of having to go to a doctor’s office. By outsourcing this service to a CVS-like clinic, the school would not have the responsibility of hiring a nurse (which many towns have already cut the services of due to budget restraints) and managing that functionality. In return they will receive quality care, with all the typical billing and insurance needs a doctor’s office would provide.
3. Teaching. As America tries to remain competitive in education, the five-to-seven hour school day simply isn’t providing the necessary instruction. As a country, we need to focus on curriculum that includes fitness, hands-on instruction, technical training, as well as the core subjects. Too often, courses outside the three R’s are deemed frivolous. Well-rounded children become conscientious, contributing adults. Art, music and gym classes are just as important as reading, writing and arithmetic. Further, all of those subjects can be offered as self-sustaining revenue models by allowing businesses offering that expertise to teach after hours within the schools. The school is a magnet for parents seeking to educate their children. Why then, do schools not compete for the after-hours revenue generating programming that karate studios, art studios and music schools (to name just a few) offer?
Additionally, facilities need to evolve to allow for longer days that include the opportunity for serious computer training to occur as part of the curriculum. Whether CAD/CAM, Desktop Publishing, Graphic Design, or Programming languages, why do let our children leave high school without any true marketable skills? Vocational schools teach young adults how to develop skills which can be turned into valuable professions. All children should leave high school with the ability to NOT have to afford college and still play a role in the information economy, which is now global.
4. Sports. I briefly touched upon this in the section on Teaching, but this is low hanging fruit. Most student-athletes have a goal of playing for their high school sports team or club, but the schools are not involved at the youth levels in terms of organization and training. Again, the high school teams/coaches are considered the pinnacle of play in each town, but those programs are not involved in building the youth program. This makes no sense. The infrastructure and organization are already built-into a school system. You’ve got an Athletic Director, staff, fields, facilities, coaches, trainers, knowledge, etc. More importantly, based on my involvement with youth soccer, lax, football and baseball, there is significant revenue. All of this could be funneled into the school system if the schools took control of youth sports.
5. Library. Why are there separate libraries in almost every town, one for the community and one in the high school? It can’t be due to security, because in this day and age it is too easy to provide residents of the town with a security card in order to access the library, including CORI checks and other measures. Certainly the library within the school could be built with a separate entrance for the public and interior access for students? Giving a student an ID card to regain access to the school or having a librarian at the school re-entry point would provide adequate security as well. So, on this point, I am stumped. It simply makes no sense to me why anyone would have more than one library in a town and why that library wouldn’t exist as part of the school. And, when you consider that a computer lab could be part of the library so that residents have access to not only the internet, but computer courses like the ones mentioned above could be accessed. I have to believe this is a better solution than what is currently seen in most small cities and towns.
Last but not least, there are incredible architects and construction companies developing and building pre-fabricated, green (often LEED) schools. These can be built for a fraction of the cost of traditional schools, and more importantly, in less than half the time.
Elected officials need to take a step back and reconsider the overall goals of how a school system can serve the entire community.