As with any collaboration, there are always funding and operational challenges that need to be carefully managed. Different jurisdictions, organizations and staff have unique relationships, policies, procedures and turf issues that need to be addressed.
Funding for community schools partnerships is often mentioned as a challenge. Things to consider when planning a partnership are:
- How will each agency maintain funding and address shortfalls for individual portions of the partnership?
- Are the current funding sources sustainable?
For example, one city noted that during the economic downturn some partner-supported programs (like funding school resource officers and maintenance of school recreation facilities) were suspended, but are now being restored. A county health department had to decrease the number of staff co-located at school sites due to budget constraints within the county.
Often, community schools partnerships are grant funded, but planning for continued funding after a grant period is important. One city was an active participant in a full-service community middle school in the school district. The community school partnership was heavily grant-funded for several years by a local foundation, but was not sustainable when funding ended.
Maintaining funding can also have an operational angle. One county health and human services agency that partnered with a school district to operate a Probation Alternatives in a Community Environment (PACE) program found that maintaining the required number of eligible students could be difficult. The program was required to maintain a minimum number of students for base funding and a certain percentage of students had to be Medi-Cal eligible to ensure adequate behavioral health funding. While in operation, the program was very successful, but maintaining the numbers was a struggle.
Establishing good governance structures is important for when operational challenges arise or when leadership positions change. For example, one city council member explained that prior city councils were reluctant to get involved with schools as they acknowledged schools are not a municipal government function. The current council is pursuing more active partnerships. A change in leadership attitudes can swing support and participation either way. Another city reported fewer new partnerships due to governance issues in the past related to joint-use agreements and other shared services.
Community schools partnerships can start out as informal connections made between several partners. Having active participation and support from school board members and superintendents, city council members or county supervisors can be important for increasing participation and establishing formal partnerships. One county library system observed an increase in participation with principals and teachers when the county superintendent openly supported the existing collaborative projects. Increasing school staff exposure and participation has helped staff see the value of these collaborative projects and allocate time and energy to the process.