Ways to save money in America’s schools that are guaranteed to make just about everybody mad at me:
1. Update drama departments. Productions can be student written, produced, directed, scored and costumed. This would be a very popular English class, I would predict, especially if screenplays and television scriptwriting were included. Production has taken on a new look since Cats first came out, as has scoring and notions of costuming. The creativity in production many times shows itself most in the minimal ways sets are made, costumes suggested and mood created. Even if plays are in one act, they can be the result of some real learning and application students will own. We don’t need to do another Cabaret, Oklahoma or other productions loved by grandparents everywhere. The important aspect of these old plays (and there are many) can be discussed in class after viewing them on DVD, downloading them onto cell phones or renting them from Netflix. Unless history classes are learning about the past through drama, there is no need for these kids to have their words replaced by those of others. It would be like learning to be a chef by serving up food some other chef prepared. So there. We’ve saved lots of money paying for overtime, costuming and materials.
2. Discontinue free music lessons. Music is valued by American parents, as is performance. Most wanting their children to learn and instrument would be willing to pay for private or class lessons somewhere else. The cost of staff to teach lessons to all students translates to quite a few dollars that could be pumped into the community to musicians who, unless they are married to breadwinners, need to take on extra work. Performance groups could be maintained and led by teachers, but would take on different forms and require only rehearsals before the final concert. Students unable to afford lessons would be subsudized through funds raised by the school community sales of pizza, candy bars or wrapping paper as well as a never ending effort to collect millions of milk caps, barcodes and food labels.
3. Take out all copy machines. Money would be better spent making a big sum purchase of classroom computers and white boards. Students work is captured and held in the hard drive and can be printed or not, depending on usage. The amount of money saved on paper, time, and machine maintenance could be used to pay for field trips. Overdue book reminders can be posted online, as can registration forms, notices, field trip information, permission slips, sign ups for teams or clubs and information about upcoming events. Parents without computers will be taught how to use the computers in our labs so they can pick up information at school, or in libraries near their homes. Paper is old news. We need to pull the plug.
4. Discontinue business offices and give staff members their own accounts to purchase needed items for their schools or classrooms. All transactions would have to be done online, so a record would be accessible to all. No matter what the subject, the same amount of money would be split evenly and when it‘s gone it‘s gone. Even though High School teachers think they need more than primary teachers do, they’re wrong. One efficient Type A accountant could monitor four schools as a part time job.
5. Stop purchasing things from School Supply catalogs. They are ridiculously overpriced. Give teachers a budget to spend for furniture and supplies and materials at resale shops, Goodwills, St. Vincent DePaul, EBay and yard sales. Teachers who don’t like interior design will be able to give their funds to those of us who love this stuff. This would also cut the cost involved in recycling the hundreds of pounds of catalogs received throughout the year, lugged out of the office and hauled away by people paid to haul away crap we don’t even look at anyway.
I’m loaded with ideas like these. While even I don’t agree with most of them, the point I am trying to make is that there are ways to be great schools without having to repeat the past. We get so tied to what we've always done that we panic when there is not enough money to keep things that way. It may be hindering some really creative thinking. We need to think not only outside the box, but invite students to jump up and down on the box we adults cling to until it is flat enough to be recycled. Maybe the idea of “change” that is crossing the country is inspiring me, or maybe I'm just trying to avoid house cleaning. I know we need it, though. Young parents are looking to the future. We can't just keep trying to keep things the same in a world with schools that are already leaving us behind, looking back and shouting, “Eat my dust!"