Report: Consolidating state school districts won't work (Jessica Bies)

Weeks after a 4/27/18 column saying school districts weren’t going to be consolidated, the task force charged with studying the issue finally released their report. The key finding: no significant savings could be achieved from reducing the number of school districts from 19 to 3 (one per county) and numerous problems would be created re facilities management, personnel management, salary, transportation and other logistical issues.

The principal argument for this conclusion is apparently
[the old chestnut] that teacher salaries would have to be “leveled up” in merged school districts, offsetting any savings from reducing the number of high level administrators. However, the possibility is held open of giving further consideration to the merger of “two or three contiguous districts” – likely candidates might be “Seaford, Laurel and Delmar, which each have less than 4,000 students, cover a relatively small geographic area in western Sussex County, and “are likely to have similar salaries.”

Task Force Chair Rep. Earl Jaques (D-Glasgow) said the task force was through in its review and offered multiple opportunities for public input in all three counties. Supposedly, it “learned a great deal” from the review and discovered “several opportunities to save the state money, improve services and provide a better educational environment for our students and educators alike.” The final report lists over 30 recommended actions.

The first item mentioned in this story is reassessment of property values in all three counties, which reportedly “could provide the funding to allow current underfunded districts the dollars they need to fill positions vacant due to lack of funds.” This and most of the other recommendations described relate to the raising of more money at the school district level and increased expenditures for various purposes. Possible cost savings are mentioned, however, from consolidating ancillary services like trash collection and maintenance contracts.

In addition to submitting its final report, the task force commissioned a further study by the University of Delaware’s Institute for Public Administration, which will reportedly “review and present the current funding formulas for building and district-level administrative positions and demonstrate how administrative positions are utilized and funded.” The UD report is expected to be completed later this year.

DE Secretary of Education Susan Bunting put the Carney administration’s seal of approval on what has been done. “We all share the desire to ensure our limited resources are put to the best use for our students. I appreciated the commitment of our members to explore new ideas and revisit old ones.”

Once again, the real case for school district consolidation – empowering school level administrators to run their schools with less top-down direction and second guessing – has gotten lost in the shuffle. The outcome was basically determined by populating the task force primarily with people invested in maintaining the status quo. Will school district consolidation task force make the grade? TCCnewsletter,
10/1/17.

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