"Our vision is really based on enhancing the overall experience of our students," says Brokamp, who is working closely this year with Heldman in "filling the gaps" resulting from budget shortfalls and higher energy prices. Filling the widening gaps is tough these days for most schools. Nearly 9 of 10 superintendents recently surveyed by the American Association of School Administrators "are facing economic issues and having problems raising funds," says Dan Domenech, AASA's executive director. With 74 percent of superintendents saying they have responded by cutting staff, Domenech notes, "that's a serious sign because that's the last thing you do."
For the most part, Walnut Hills has managed to avoid that. "The diamond here is the faculty," Brokamp says. Reductions have come to Walnut Hills—an athletic director has been cut, and some higher-cost food items have been pulled from the cafeteria—but Brokamp and Heldman constantly look to get the most from the school's $12 million operating budget. They have struck deals with publishers and booksellers on textbook discounts and buybacks of used books. "It's a combination of cutting and finding more resources," Brokamp says. "It's something we balance every day."
While other schools are dropping faculty who teach outside a meat-and-potato curriculum, art and music are required courses at Walnut Hills. To provide more of that overall high school experience, Brokamp is loath to cut the extracurricular activities. Walnut Hills has 61 athletic teams that compete interscholastically. Costs to transport students to after-school activities totaled $15,000 last year versus $40,000 this year, thanks to rising expenses. Again, Brokamp can look to the foundation. The school is even looking to add courses next year, including digital imaging, creative writing, and an Advanced Placement U.S. government class.
"We're not going to talk about reducing classes or staff," says Brokamp, "but what we can add. I couldn't say that with any honesty...without the foundation. It allows me to go in with a straight face in the face of the worst economic crisis [in our lifetime] and say, 'What can we add?' "