Cost Saving Ideas For School Districts

Posted by Vanco Education on Jan 11, 2021 11:19:32 AM

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When you're working with limited funds in a school district, you need to look for new places where you can save money. Fortunately, there are many ways to trim costs without compromising the quality of a child's education. With some careful budgeting and creative solutions, you can continue providing a strong education to the children in your district.

Read on to learn about cost saving ideas for school districts!

Start By Reviewing Your Budget

In order to arrive at informed cost-cutting strategies for schools, you need to understand where your money comes from — and where it goes. Before you start picking apart individual departments or slashing line items, it's good to take stock of your budget. Sit down with your leadership team and look at your current budget together. And ask your financial officer to take the lead so you can understand what all of the numbers mean.

Since you're at the mercy of local, state and federal tax money, you can't count on your sources of money increasing each year. In fact, those numbers could dry up at times. When you're mapping out a budget for the next fiscal year, factor in the uncertainty of your funding sources.

To be ready for anything, you'll want to look for places in your budget where your spending has grown significantly in the past several years. And you'll want to compare schools within the district to find your weakest links.

Start planning your budget in the winter. If you don't receive the same amount of funding you previously received from your state government, you may need to start planning for some cuts. Always be ready to make changes before you're forced into an uncomfortable position.

Revisit your budget every month or quarter to understand spending habits. Are you spending too much on new technology that goes unused or repairs to aging cooling systems?

You may need to reroute money to help fortify a struggling school. Or you may find areas where you can cut spending to produce a more balanced budget. With several schools offering similar experiences in your district, you should be able to find places where you can ask your employees to move between schools as needed.

Become More Energy Efficient

One of the biggest ways to cut school budget expenses is to become more energy efficient. Energy costs can gash a school budget. In fact, experts suggest that around 30% of a school district's energy is not used in the most useful or efficient way possible.

The good news is that there are ways to become energy efficient. One way is to keep track of energy usage to see when it spikes and make adjustments. As one easy change, don't fire the kilns in the art rooms at peak times of day.

If you're operating with outdated equipment, it might be time to invest in new and more efficient heating and cooling systems. Look for ENERGY STAR equipment when you're ready to upgrade. This designation ensures that you'll be using products that meet government standards for more efficient energy use.

While you're tacking building upgrades, evaluate the status of things like insulation, lighting and roofing conditions. These important components of your district's buildings can impact the comfort level of your students and employees. A drafty building means that you'll be cranking up the thermostat more — and that leads to higher energy bills.

As you make changes, it's important to get buy-in from your staff. They need to understand how they can contribute to a more efficient and effective district. And they even can involve students in the process.

Be sure to turn off lights in all spaces that are not being used and minimize lighting in the hallways. Set the thermostat at a lower temperature when people are not in the building, including on weekends. Even consider starting school a week later after the holiday break to reduce the heating costs.

Track energy usage each day. Have all schools in the district partner with each other to get better energy prices. In the long run, simple steps like this can chip away at energy costs.

Embrace Other Learning Formats

Whether online or hybrid, you may be able to cut costs by using alternative learning formats — plus you'll impress parents with your eagerness to be at the forefront of education.

Investigate hybrid learning. With hybrid learning options, students get the best of both worlds. They'll get access to teachers through in-person instruction as well as online activities. 

And because students will meet with their teachers online for at least part of the time, you may be able to save some money. Teachers can work with a larger pool of students virtually, and teachers can share resources. You'll also cut down on the amount of time you need to serve students in your facilities.

You can trim costs by asking teachers to collaborate and work across multiple classrooms, too. In addition, you can cut down on the need for paper materials because most of the content is online.

While digital and hybrid learning approaches do require investing in learning management systems, the cost can pay off in the long run. If you use these platforms efficiently, you can open up your educational programming to a larger audience. And this can produce a new revenue stream.

Cost Saving Ideas for School Districts Include Evaluating Staffing

While evaluating staffing needs can be a fraught process, it is important to do it if you have too many employees. On the front end, be open and transparent about your process. And be as gracious and thorough as possible.

Understand Whether Layoffs Are Necessary

Layoffs represent the most extreme course of action when you're looking at cost-cutting strategies for schools. No one likes to see a situation arise where layoffs enter the conversation, but it is a reality to consider. For an under-enrolled school in a struggling district, you may need to cut down on personnel. 

Understand what your layoff policies look like and make changes to help you retain your strongest teachers. Look at performance evaluations to determine who your weakest teachers are. And gather as much information as you can before making any decisions.

And evaluate administrators, too. Could you have one principal overseeing multiple schools? Do you need as many administrators as you have in place since they earn higher salaries?

Be wary of laying off teachers. In doing so, you may save money — but you'll raise doubts about the quality of your district's education. Make this a last-resort option. 

Outsource Some Responsibilities

Are your security guards, food service workers and bus drivers all hired by the district? You may be able to save money by outsourcing these responsibilities. Privatization can help you cut costs and run your district more efficiently. By hiring an outside company, you'll be able to gain expert service that could keep your district's costs lower.

Incentivize Retirement

Do you have a number of teachers approaching retirement age? If your budget is in a challenging spot, you may want to incentivize early retirement. Teachers can retire as early as age 55, but many may want to teach longer to ensure stronger retirement savings. Because more experienced teachers command higher salaries, they are expensive employees to keep on the payroll, however.

Consider offering cash or health coverage incentives to get your older teachers to retire early. Offering a reduced salary and benefits may be enough to entice a 59-year-old teacher to take the money and run. You also could establish a rewards program so that teachers who announce retirement are awarded for doing so early. 

Be sure to check the legal ramifications of what you're doing. Discuss options with your board and financial team, too. You need to plan these offers early so that you can save money by enacting them.

Make Careful Decisions

Ultimately, when you're thinking about eliminating a position, you need to move forward carefully. You can expect significant savings by removing a salary and benefits package — but consider the outward appearance of such a decision.

Reformat Benefits Packages to Save Money

With the average benefits package adding up to 30% of an employee's overall compensation, you know that organizations like school districts are paying a lot in benefits. Beyond the base salary, a district would be paying an additional $15,000 for a teacher making $50,000.

One of the more effective cost-cutting strategies for schools is to trim benefits packages. You don't want to erase the perks of working at your district, but you can make some key adjustments. As one option, you can increase deductibles in the health coverage plan that you offer. 

If you offer additional health care coverage to retired employees, mandate that they've worked for your district for a longer period of time in order to receive it. Not only will this exclude some people from this big financial benefit, but it may encourage more allegiance to your district.

Create a system to confirm that your employees are present at work, too. When employees take advantage of the system, it means you'll need to hire more substitutes or temps to cover their areas. And that requires more money from the district.

With so many considerations, it is helpful to use a school management system. You can track benefits costs, as well as analytics related to finances and payroll. You'll be able to catch small budgetary increases before they snowball into bigger issues.

Manage Facilities Better to Trim Costs

When you manage your facilities and look for places to be more efficient, you can create cost-cutting strategies for schools. Are the schools in your district underused or unchecked? Then it's time to implement a game plan that will cut out the budgetary fluff.

For starters, assess the usage of your schools. Do you have a master plan? Before you make any rash decisions, work with your leadership team to determine the status of each building and how it will evolve going forward.

And are there warehouses or other facilities that are sitting idle? Sell off any property that isn't being used or lease it to a third party.

Look into renting your school buildings on the weekends, too. There may be a community organization that needs the space — and that will result in some revenue for your district. Make sure that you have documents in place so that renters know the expectations, fees and policies if there is any damage to the property.

When a new building goes up or another one is repaired, know how these facility changes fit into a master plan. Schedule routine checks on all heating and cooling systems, floors, windows and bathrooms. Assign staff in your district to complete minor repairs, such as painting, to save costs over hiring a painting service.

Maintenance staff should be trained to handle HVAC problems, plumbing issues and carpentry matters. Disperse maintenance staff across multiple buildings, too, so that the buildings with the most need always have someone ready to attend to a problem.

Look for Ways to Cut Costs in Student Organizations and Athletics

Sports, arts programming and student organizations all contribute significant costs to your school district. When you're looking into cost-cutting strategies for schools in your district, don't look away from these programs. Instead, implement tactics that can save money without eliminating offerings.

With your athletics events, establish a strong base of volunteers to help out at games. That way you won't need to rely on hired staff. To go a step further, help start a boosters program that can generate independent funds to support your athletic programs.

Don't jump on the uniform bandwagon and upgrade uniforms each season. Stretch the time between upgrades, and only buy the equipment that is essential for a given sport. Ask students what they already own.

Charge for tickets at games, and use a streamlined ticketing system for your athletics events. From basketball to baseball, you can save time and money by choosing an online platform. You won't need to hire people to staff ticket counters or deal with the clunkiness of cash transactions.

A thriving music program is a major draw for any school district. With that said, you need to keep tabs on costs for trips, concerts and other events in your music program. You could even set up an online store to help offset costs and generate revenue.

And consider using an interdistrict loan program for supplies and materials that student organizations use. This way you won't be purchasing multiple sets of the same type of media in each school.

Understand and Reduce Transportation Costs

If you're living in a district with bussing, then you know that fuel costs can add up quickly. Transportation costs can gouge a district budget. And with fluctuating oil prices, it's difficult to know how much you should set aside in your budget for travel.

For employees going on field trips, enact a little more surveillance. Hands-on educational experiences such as trips to museums and monuments are a critical part of an educational experience. But they come at a cost.

Work with your educators to find out the necessity of the trip as well as places where they could trim costs. Ask them to go with brown bag lunches for students rather than meals at a restaurant. And require teachers to map out a budget for the trip that their supervisor will see.

Try using a computer program to determine the most effective bus routes so the vehicles don't amass a lot of excess miles. And consider using volunteer parents and community members as your bus drivers to save on wages.

Reduce Paper Usage

When you think of schools, you probably think of stacks of paper in classrooms and offices. While paper products are a necessity in any school setting, they also are a significant cost. And it's not too hard to pursue cuts in this category. 

Gather information on how often departments are making copies and understand the purpose of their reports. Could they just as easily be shared online? If they could, find ways to go paperless with department reports — and cinch in the expense limits for copies in each department.

Eliminate forms requiring supervisor signatures to save on paper and reduce red tape. And ask your employees to bring laptops and tablets to meetings rather than printouts of necessary documents. Restrict printing access at the school so only essential items are printed.

Send attachments on emails rather than cross-campus mail. Don't mail grades and other notices. And communicate with parents your rationale for eliminating paper waste in the district so they can help.

With tasks such as class registration, job applications and check requisitions, aim to go paperless in these areas, too. Make it easy for applicants to apply for positions through an online portal. And let guidance counselors work with students to complete class registration and provide access to grades.

Invest in Cheaper and Healthier Lunches

By swapping slices of pizza for hummus and carrots, you can save money and provide your students with a more nutritious meal. Healthier students will be alert in class — and help your bottom line.

But contrary to common perceptions, the schools serving healthier lunches are doing as well if not better than those serving standard lunches. The healthier lunches, which are loaded with vegetables and whole grains, are an attractive option in a country with an obesity epidemic. In fact, some schools are even seeing a profit after making significant changes to their lunch offerings.

Reduce Student Lunch Debt

The average school is shouldering thousands of dollars in lunch debt and that debt is expected to grow each year. Some districts are turning to donations and crowdfunding to get the money that they need. We outline some of those strategies and others that can help your school lower its student lunch debt in this guide.

You can also save money and improve students' lunchtime experience by using an online system to manage school lunch payments. By simplifying school lunch payments, you can give students an easy way to pay for their meals through an online system — and you'll help them get their food faster. 

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About the Author

Vanco Education

Vanco supports K-12 schools and community education organizations by providing convenient, online solutions including cashless campus software, web stores, program management tools and meal payment solutions. To see how your school can simplify online payments, give us a call at 800.323.5953 or request a demo online.