6 God-Awful Ways Real Schools Tried To Save Money

These cash-strapped schools deserve an A+ for creativity and an F for sheer lunacy.
6 God-Awful Ways Real Schools Tried To Save Money

It's an expensive process, teaching the next generation to read, write, and develop the skills necessary to handle whatever life and the next Pokemon game throws at them. And no matter how hard schools try, it seems there's never enough money to go around. To counter their dwindling funds, some of the more forward-looking educational institutions are taking some drastic measures to keep the Bunsen burners on. And they have to be willing to do anything to make ends meet. Anything. Like ...

Making Students Teach Classes

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Kids seem to be maturing faster every year, so what's the harm in teachers giving them a little increased responsibility? You know, like smacking the erasers together after class, strapping on a hall monitor vest, or better yet, letting them teach the class while the teacher takes a six-month sabbatical.

According to a lawsuit filed earlier this year, this exact scenario occurred when a horrendously understaffed school in Detroit assigned an eighth-grader to teach math classes. Not for just one day as a goof, but for an entire month. After the regular math instructor "left in frustration about class size and lack of support," the school could not locate any qualified substitutes. This led to appointing the highest-performing 13-year-old to take over both seventh- and eighth-grade math while a teacher's aide helped them with "classroom management." That's right, the adult educational paraprofessional was seen as less qualified to teach a class than someone who was still trying to bypass the parental lock on their computer.

Brien Wright/iStock

Unfortunately, teacher health insurance does not cover swirly-induced trauma from other students.

Sadly, figuring out the odds of such a broken school system producing even one whiz kid is one of the many things Detroit Public School students will never learn. That's why the tween teacher was only one of many, many motivators for this massive federal lawsuit against Governor Rick Snyder and other Michigan state officials. Representing hundreds of students, the suit has claimed that the "slum-like" state of Detroit public schools has "robbed them of fundamental learning experiences," pointing out that the most woefully underfunded schools lacked even the most basic of supplies -- like appropriate textbooks and toilet paper. In some cases, these kids' schoolbooks were all but unreadable due to overuse.

Right To Literacy Detroit

Hopefully, that had nothing to do with the lack of toilet paper.

Opening A Nightclub In An Elementary School

6 God-Awful Ways Real Schools Tried To Save Money

Remember the awkward and uncomfortable experiences offered by school dances? Don't you wish someone had taught you how to pop and lock your way into your childhood crush's heart? Well, if you happened to attend a certain school in Philadelphia about a decade ago, all you had to do was hang around after the bell rang for the education of a lifetime, when the facility transformed itself into a full-fledged nightclub.

By day, the Harambee Institute of Science and Technology, a charter school on the Fresh Prince-iest side of Philly, "excelled in building students' self-worth," from kindergartners all the way to eighth-graders. But when the sun set, the Institute pulled its metaphorical speakeasy lever which rotated the fridges into liquor cabinets, lowered a disco ball from the ceiling, and turned its cafeteria into Club Damani.


"I don't need to check your ID, Megan. You're in my social studies class."

Opening a nightclub in a school isn't the smoothest of operations, especially since it's super illegal to serve a jello shot anywhere near a school zone. But the problem Club Damani had wasn't that the administrators couldn't get their hands on a liquor license; it's that their liquor license had expired. As luck would have it, Harambee Institute was built on the remains of an Italian-American social club with a valid booze license still in place from 1936. When the building was bought by Harambee Institute Inc., they also requested the transfer of the existing liquor license -- something the city council wasn't able to refuse.

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Clearly, this was preparation for an upcoming assembly on the dangers beer goggles for adolescents.

Although "Damani" does sound vaguely Italian, the name actually means one has "good business ability," but with a propensity toward stubbornness. Which seems right in line with Harambee CEO Masai Skief's values. Skief responded to the city council's accusation by saying, "We cannot allow slanderous and inaccurate allegations to impede our success and define who we are," while at the same time admitting that the nightclub existed and that it wasn't anyone's business what the school did after the final bell had rung. Skief was given a severe fine and three years of jail time, but not for serving people watered-down Martinis without a license in a school. Turns out he had embezzled $88,000 from Harambee over the course of several years. Now the school is under new management, and claims to have stopped all of Skief's antics.

But does the school still run an illegal after-hours speakeasy? That depends. What's the password?

Serving Lunch Meat Older Than The Students

6 God-Awful Ways Real Schools Tried To Save Money

School lunches are right up there with airline and hospital food on the list of meals most likely to lose a taste test with cardboard. Healthy options aren't exactly a priority in school cafeterias, and the only way you're getting something fresh on your plate is if it crawled there right before the gravy got ladled on. That may be because the meat that gets served in these culinary tombs is older than the chewed gum calcifying underneath the benches.

In fairness, there's nothing wrong with freezing a little surplus pork for later consumption -- though sticking it in the freezer in 2009 and then waiting until 2015 to thaw it would make even the most ardent doomsday prepper vomit a little in their mouth. Yet this exact scenario occurred throughout the Hawkins County school system in Tennessee. Children were served pork roast that had passed its "best before" date more than half a decade prior, and when one of the lunchroom staff warned that the meat had been frozen beyond the point of no return, the cafeteria manager reportedly issued the order to "cover it with gravy to give it a better taste."


"Don't ask how old the gravy is."

Pointing to a possible trend of serving the equivalent of glacier mammoths to schoolchildren, cafeterias in the Boston area were also found to be doling out food that had been kept on ice since back from when the Black Eyed Peas were still a thing. Expressing little in the way of contrition, spokesmen for the schools reminded complainers that the expiration dates set by the U.S. Department of Agriculture were "recommendations, not requirements" -- like roller coaster height restrictions or the age of consent in Texas. The inspector leading the investigation further reassured worried parents that the meat wasn't dangerous to consume, and that it had merely lost most of its nutritional value.

And hey, a little systematic undernourishment has never hurt anyone -- especially not growing children.

6 God-Awful Ways Real Schools Tried To Save Money

Besides, the complete lack of nutrients did kill off most of the leprosy in the taco meat.

Renting Out Property (And Kids)

6 God-Awful Ways Real Schools Tried To Save Money

You know how teachers only work nine months out of the year, not counting the extra tutoring, research work, and pole dancing they do during the summer? Well, they're not the only ones who look to make a little something on the side when school isn't in session. For every minute kids aren't shuffling in and out of classes, schools are prime parking real estate going to waste! And while we're at it, next year's team uniforms aren't going to pay for themselves, so might as well get those off-season wrestlers out there to do some landscaping.

6 God-Awful Ways Real Schools Tried To Save Money
David Freund/iStock

"Think of it as a weight room with more fresh air."

There are all sorts of ways a struggling school can churn up some quick profit which don't involve cooking meth with ex-students. One year, a school in Grapevine-Colleyville, TX used its office equipment to print copies for the local city government after hours, earning an extra 30 grand. They then made another $87,000 by selling off the unused parking spaces around the football stadium to nearby office workers. Sure, all this might sound a little unorthodox, but the school's entrepreneurial spirit netted them enough to pay the salary of two teachers. Those teachers in turn began selling their services over the summer, tutoring students using more "creative learning situations." And if you want to know the difference between regular learning and creative learning, it's $100 an hour.

But the buildings aren't the only assets administrators have found to exploit. In order to make ends meet, coaches have had to send out their athletes do some fundraising -- and we're not talking about bake sales or barely legal car washes, either. One school in Oregon has started "rent a wrestler" programs, which serve up wiry prepubescents to attend to your gardening needs. Another has posted a "Will work for helmets" ad on his Facebook page. But no Oregonian sports board was harder up for cash than Wilsonville, which had to sell a cow someone had donated. To their credit, they did manage to raise $1,700 for their baseball team, and their basketball team has been unbeatable since they recruited the giant living up that magic beanstalk.

6 God-Awful Ways Real Schools Tried To Save Money

That cow would never have survived the next round of cafeteria budget cuts.

Charging For (Or Eliminating) Bus Service


Being driven to school in a big yellow rig by some socially inept middle-aged weirdo is a time-honored American tradition. But getting students to class on time often costs schools too much money, especially for something with no educational value. Which is why more and more states are deciding to kill two birds with one stone and use the school bus to teach kids that there's no such thing as a free ride.


"Kids, meet your new bus driver, Ayn Rand."

In many parts of the country, things have gotten so bad that schools are being forced to choose between school buses and school teachers, with districts like Murrieta Valley, California having to pay "$3.5 million a year to run the transportation program" while the government only chips in $86,000. That's why, instead of scrapping the program, some schools have decided to go the Uber route. In Golden, Colorado, public schools having begun requiring their students to pay a fee to sit and lick the windows of their school buses -- charging a modest $150 a year to break even.

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"10 bucks for coach, 20 to sit in the back with the cool kids, and it's customary to tip your driver a pudding cup."

But if you should happen to reside in one San Diego district, you'd better be prepared to shell out upwards of $575. For families with several children, the school has kindly capped its yearly bus fee at a whopping $1,437. The fact that this happens to be the exact price of a four-night stay in a Caribbean casino is surely a coincidence.

And with a budget deficit in the area of $80 million, it makes sense that Philadelphia schools proposed a price tag of $2.25 per ride, each way. Over the course of an entire year, that adds up to over $800. At least in the old days, spending that kind of cash on a ride to school meant you'd be getting drunk on stolen liquor with your prom date in the back of a limo.

Flat-Out Extorting Students

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While there are many reasons U.S. schools are in such dire financial straits, some are catching on to the real root of their problems. Not the government cuts, fundraising fatigue, or the wild administrative expenses, mind you, but those goddamn kids. If it wasn't for all the students constantly needing transportation, lunches, activities, and (worst of all) education, schools would be swimming in money! That's why a handful of schools have decided to draw the line and start doing the bullies' work for them by squeezing their students for money.

When the Marana Unified School District in Arizona got hit with an extortion racket, it wasn't operated by a bunch of goons in pinstriped suits, but the most ruthless, aggressive gang known to man: high school gym teachers. Specifically, the ones in charge of girl's volleyball. When the coaching team was told they needed to raise $12,500, they sent notes to the players' parents demanding $250 "in tax credits." The note also made clear that if the money wasn't in their hands by the end of the week, they were going to start physically punishing their children, forcing them to do ten "grinders" plus one for every day their parents weren't coughing up the money -- or until they were dead, we guess.

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"You lost your babysitting job? Fuck you, pay me. Your parents are getting divorced? Fuck you, pay me. Teenage pregnancy? Fuck you, pay me."

Then we have the school district in Kokomo, Indiana, which didn't take kindly to students who owed more than $25 in lunch fees. To deal with these degenerates, kids with outstanding payments could have their lunch trays confiscated and their food severely rationed. This "alternate lunch" looked something like this:

6 God-Awful Ways Real Schools Tried To Save Money
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You also get a single packet of salt and all the water you can scoop from the fountain.

When a similar situation arose in a New Jersey school, which parents allegedly left in the red for $100,000 in unpaid lunch money, at least their educators didn't respond by slowly starving their wards. Instead, the Englewood school handled parents with outstanding lunch debts by contacting Child Protective Services, requesting that they be investigated for neglect. Gotta make that paper somehow.

E. Reid Ross also pokes various creatures with a stick over at The Featured Creature. Feel free to follow him on Twitter here.

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