Our neighborhood schools are the anchors of our communities. They are the places where our children spend a great deal of their time, they are community centers where our neighborhood organizations gather, they are event spaces where we come together to celebrate the arts, and they are economic attractors that can bring in small businesses and development opportunities. Unfortunately population decline over the past several decades and funding cuts at the state level have shuttered many of our neighborhood schools and turned these former assets into empty shells in the heart of our neighborhoods. Recognizing that these population shifts are real and that resources are scarce we have to find innovative new ways to keep our neighborhood schools open without bankrupting our entire school system.
1. Share Space With Nonprofit Service Providers
For long stretches of the year many of our neighborhood school buildings are mostly empty. Even during the school year we often have unused office or classroom space in some school buildings. One great way to provide our public schools with a new revenue stream while supporting our neighborhoods and small nonprofit organizations would be to allow certain targeted organizations that provide useful community services to rent this space. Many school districts around the country create valuable partnerships with nonprofit service providers and realize some additional revenue in the process. We should work with the school district to pursue these kinds of common sense partnerships.
2. Create New Shared Green Spaces
Many of our neighborhood schools are lacking playgrounds and green spaces for the kids who attend them. And many of our neighborhoods that those schools are in lack the same amenities. We could begin to direct some of our capital budget funds to partner with the school district to create high-quality neighborhood parks near schools that will be assets to everyone in the community. The city often has trouble paying the operating costs of maintaining new parks, and the school district often has trouble coming up with the capital to build playgrounds and parks in the first place. Yet through a partnership where the city provides up front construction capital and the school district handles on-going maintenance we could create a series of new neighborhood parks and playgrounds that have a sustainable funding source.