Reimagining Education

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Signs of the Times

By Peter Franzen, Director of Development

In St. Louis and across the country, top-heavy school district offices gobble up dollars that should be spent at the school level.  Frequently a general lack of transparency can make it difficult to point out meaningful examples of that until a decision catches the attention of the media.

That is exactly what happened this week when Fox 2 News confronted SLPS superintendent Kelvin Adams about an expenditure for construction site signs that inform citizens about the building renovation projects taking place, courtesy of the 2010 Prop S, at several of the city’s schools.

The signs were budgeted to be produced at a certain size that later was deemed too small.  So another $15,000 was added to the production costs to make them larger; presumably so they are easier to read or contain more information.  The total sign budget for this project is reported by Fox 2 to be $67,000!

As part of an organization that is solutions-based and child-centered, I would like to propose a solution that would cost considerably less than $67,000 and would provide SLPS students with real-world experience.

The signs for this purpose could easily have been created as student projects.

My solution begins with some DIY supplies including  4’ x 8’ oriented strand board available at Home Depot for less than $15 per board followed by additional painting and stenciling supplies.  Students would learn how to plan and budget for their sign, they would be involved in design work using client specifications (the client being the SLPS district office), and art students could gain hands-on experience in sign making.

I would leave the projects to groups of students at, say, the Construction Careers Academy (an SLPS-sponsored charter school) or maybe the Central Visual and Performing Arts High School, or even each of the schools where the signs will appear.

I don’t have a budget worked up, but I am 100% certain it would be significantly less than $67,000.  Not only would my solution provide cost savings, it would be a fun, community building experience for the students and schools involved.   Beyond the walls of the school buildings, certainly there is a sign company in town that would see the value in taking part as well.

Public school officials decry the waining support for traditional public education, but is it any wonder?  The savings on this one, small project alone could certainly have provided an SLPS school with an additional week to the paltry four-weeks of summer school offered this year.

How many other ill-advised expense line items like this one are happening every day behind the scenes?

“We don’t spend enough money on education!”   It’s the first thing many people say when there is a conversation about the condition of Missouri’s schools.  However, over the last 40 years we have more than doubled per student spending while student test scores have remained unchanged.    Meanwhile, public school expenditures like this one often seem to actually mock the existing commitment to fund public schools.

More money for public education?  Let’s start by spending what we do have more wisely.


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