The budgets of all school districts across the globe seem to be shrinking year after year. School boards are left with trying to determine how to make a balanced budget out of it all. There are some parts of the budget that cannot be reduced substantially, such as salaries for educators. Teachers are already greatly underpaid for the most part. But there are others that can be looked at much more closely.
School administrators play a major part in figuring out ways to possibly balance the school district’s budget. Usually they are assisted by an accountant or two that is hired by the district to look over the numbers, and a school board that offers their combined knowledge. But for the most part, each line item should be viewed carefully by the administrators because they are familiar with the day-to-day operations of the school. However, administrators often have no real accounting knowledge in their background. They more than likely raised through the ranks and went from being a teacher to an administrator.
Administrators may not be fully competent at addressing a crisis in their school budget because of a lack of background knowledge. Once I was a newly hired Technology teacher for a district that had severe internet issues. Too often the internet would cutout and the bandwidth was much too low. After approaching the principal and superintendent about this problem, they declared their ignorance on this topic. I asked to see the numbers from our current internet provider, and they willingly provided them to me. We were paying approximately $1,000 a month and were locked into a five year deal for internet that was substandard just because they did not shop around.
After calling around to a few of the major internet providers, I secured internet service to the school for less than $100 a month that was a huge upgrade to what we previously had. The administrators reluctantly accepted the deal as long as the public and the staff were not made aware of their mistake since they still had to pay off that previous five year deal from before. To put it bluntly, they wasted about $60,000 of the school budget because they did not have the knowledge or skill needed to address these types of situations.
An Area to Save Money
One question that should be considered as a way to potentially save thousands of dollars a year is whether textbooks are really needed in a 21st century classroom. The field of Education seems to change at a very slow rate. The one room schoolhouse that started centuries ago with a teacher at the front of the classroom lecturing students out of a textbook is still happening, we just added on more classrooms to the mix.
With the addition of the internet and all of the various computer devices available, many schools are realizing they would be much better off with a classroom full of collaboration and technology rather than a talkative teacher at a podium with textbooks on students’ desks.
After conducting a quick unofficial poll with several elementary and high school principals, it was determined that new textbooks cost anywhere from $100 to $200 each. As an example, let’s say elementary grade levels 1st through 4th are due for a new textbook in one of their core subjects. To make this easy, they are replacing their Reading textbooks for those four grades all at once. If each grade level has 100 students, that means there are 400 students in grades 1-4 that are receiving new textbooks. That means 400 new Reading textbooks will cost the school between $40,000 and $80,000 for just that one core subject. And in another six or seven years, that Reading textbook will be outdated and the whole process will start over again.
Balancing the Budget
Publishing for the K-12 school market is more than an $8 billion industry. Three companies (McGraw-Hill, Pearson, and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) own about 85% of the school textbook market. They are like the character Cerberus, the three-headed dog in Greek mythology.
It’s amazing how carefully we shop when we are spending our own money, but if we are given a gift card for a present, we willfully spend it without thinking twice. This is what often happens with school finances. If an administrator does their homework, they can find deals on e-textbooks that can be fifty percent off the printed version of the same textbook, except better. E-textbooks usually have video links, graphics, and text-to-speech capabilities. Plus they have the ability to highlight words, phrases, and whole pages in the text that could come in handy while studying. And it is available anywhere there is an internet connection!
But shop carefully since not all e-textbooks are less expensive. Many of the main publishing companies charge just as much for an e-textbook as a regular textbook. You can see this often with books on Kindle. Some books are just as expensive there as they are in the bookstore. Notwithstanding, if the e-textbooks are not offered at a lower price, it’s time to look around and find another publisher that needs your business.
Preparing for a 21st Century Education
Lastly, something that should fully be considered is the elimination of textbooks or e-textbooks altogether. Somewhere along the way, people in Education forgot that textbooks are merely a supplementation to what is offered in the classroom. They are not the be-all and end-all of what should be taught. Why are we trusting book publishers to know better on what the students need than us? Do not say they are able to line up the material better for Common Core and State Standards because anyone with a checklist or a curriculum map can do that just as well.
As just an example, instead of using Reading textbooks that need to be replaced every few years in the classroom, purchase timeless novels that can be had for a couple dollars each on a Scholastic book order. Stories that last for weeks instead of short stories that last for a day can teach reading comprehension much better.
In addition, Language Arts textbooks can easily be obsolete as well. There are websites that can help with learning the parts of speech, spelling, and grammar. Plus, with the addition of Google Docs that is provided free to all students, completing writing tasks has never been easier.
History textbooks are often jam-packed with information, but I would wager the students could learn more through researching on the internet and accessing corresponding videos rather than blowing off the dust of an outdated textbook. History is one of the most fascinating subjects there is, but how most teachers could present it could use a little work.
We often hear the saying “this is how it always has been done.” But basically, this is an excuse for laziness. Just because this is how things were done in the past does not mean this is how they should keep on being done in the future. School budgets are bleeding red, and the time has come to fix the problems instead of just hoping for more money next year. Eliminating textbooks will not solve all the financial problems facing school districts across the globe, but it’s a start. Plus, we are preparing our students for a 21st century education in the process.