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School districts looking for funding alternatives as state support shrinks

By PHIL OSBORNE

Danville Schools Education Foundation

I used to joke with folks that I’m an idea guy. Some are good ideas; some of them are a little shaky. But they are often ideas that stimulate conversation, and that’s not always a bad thing.

First, we have to consider the financial challenges school systems all across Kentucky face. For example, according to the Council for Better Education, there has been a major shift in funding for public schools from 60 percent state resources in 2008 to only 51 percent in 2018.

On top of that, we have a dinosaur on the books known as House Bill 44, dating back to 1979, which limits revenue growth for various taxing districts, including city and county governments, and local school districts. To make matters worse, the voter recall provision from HB 44 was made easier this year with the passage of HB 49. Right now, it only applies to Jefferson and Fayette counties, but don’t be surprised to see it surface again next year, making it applicable to all school districts.

So how does a district go about increasing revenue in the face of shrinking state support and ongoing challenges with taxing? That’s where ideas come in, and I can lay no claim to these.

Some districts have started selling naming rights. In a recent edition of the Kentucky School Advocate, a publication of the state’s school board association, there appeared an article about McCracken County, which has netted about $1.3 million since 2013 by selling naming rights to various facilities at the new high school, including the gymnasium and library.

In other states, school buses become rolling billboards with advertising purchased by local vendors. (Frankly, I am not an advocate of using school property to advertise to children, but if targeted to adults in rural areas, they are an advertiser’s alternative to larger transit authorities, such as TARC in Louisville or LexTran in Lexington.)

Currently, 11 states allow school bus advertising. Kentucky considered it in 2012. It passed in the House but was never heard in the Senate.

And of course, there are school foundations, such as the one I represent. Gifts to a foundation can be donor-directed, or go toward the general mission of the organization. These gifts are charitable contributions that can be channeled directly to programs that benefit teachers and — ultimately — their students.

All of these ideas could, conceivably, have an impact. Ideas that you have could go well beyond the ones outlined here. But we also have to be cognizant of the fact that Danville schools are a $20 million enterprise. In the McCracken County example, naming rights for the gymnasium went for $200,000 over a 10-year period—or $20,000 per year. That would be only one-tenth of one percent of the operating budget.

As a community, we certainly need to explore alternatives to supplement revenue as state resources shrink; but as a community, we have to be the ones who are willing to step up when challenges arise.  

No time like the present. Get a jump on next year’s tax return and make a contribution to the foundation today!

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Phil Osborne is executive director of the Danville Schools Education Foundation. Email him with questions about the foundation at posborne@danvilleschoolsfoundation.org.