Every nonprofit organization could use the help of a few good volunteers.

And with taxpayer dollars being squeezed these days, count local school districts among those in need of extra helping hands.

Schools have long depended on volunteers in a variety of ways, from pitching in during sporting events to serving on parent-teacher organizations.

With an economy still in turmoil and school districts forced to cut staff, volunteers could do even more to bolster the educational process in their communities.

The notion of encouraging more citizens to help out in schools was brought up recently during a meeting in Hutchinson that featured Dale Dennis, deputy commissioner of the Kansas State Department of Education.

Dennis, in Hutchinson to discuss lingering economic woes for K-12 schools, warned that even with a 1-percent increase in the statewide sales tax, a significant funding shortfall still looms. Until the economy rebounds, Dennis said, Kansans should expect more education funding woes.

And without a break from the lofty demands of No Child Left Behind, which require schools to meet increasingly difficult standards in reading and math achievement, the financial situation won't ease anytime soon.

Unfortunately, tight budgets have left many local school districts with fewer staff members. During the last school year the number of teachers in the state was down 874 over the previous year, and Dennis expected that number to be even higher this school year.

It all means schools, like many businesses feeling the economic pinch, are learning to do more with less.

As one superintendent who attended the presentation by Dennis suggested, district patrons can help. While many already give a good amount in tax dollars to support public schools, their time could be just as valuable in helping to fill gaps created with the elimination of aide and other staff positions at schools.

In Garden City USD 457, there's always a need for volunteer help, and not just from parents through parent-teacher organizations and site councils at their student's school.

Opportunities exist for many adults willing to contribute their time and get involved in academic and sports-related endeavors, such as:

* Garden City High School volunteer opportunities in clubs for band, choir and a variety of sports.

* Partners in Education, which has local businesses working with schools to improve student achievement by cultivating and integrating business, community and school resources for all students. Businesses may make commitments of time, financial resources or other support, based on the need of the school and the type of business.

* The Retired Senior Volunteer Program, which helps out at schools in different ways.

Other school districts have similar opportunities. There are no special requirements to be a volunteer, other than an interest in helping one of the more important endeavors in any community: educating our youngsters.

An increase in volunteers would have the added benefit of showing more citizens what goes on in their schools.

Far too many haven't been inside a school in years. Considering how much has changed in the classroom, seeing firsthand what goes on can be an eye-opener for those who question or don't understand why districts do the things they do.

Taxpayers who already pay dearly in tax dollars for public schools understandably may become frustrated over spending even though the goal is to make sure our schools don't fall behind, and are as well staffed and equipped as possible.

We all have a responsibility to provide youngsters with the best possible educational experience. In the end, the tax dollars we devote to education are a prudent investment in the community's future.

A little time and energy spent volunteering in schools would go a long way, as well.

E-mail Editor-publisher Dena Sattler at denas@gctelegram.com.