Momentum for school consolidation

In the past week there have been a number of signals around the statehouse that there is growing momentum for a school administrative consolidation effort.  The signals include a working draft of goals that was recently presented to the Education Committee (on which I serve). It includes moving towards approximated 60 governing bodies overseeing K-12 frameworks.  Currently there are approximately 280 governing bodies for a wide range of school administrative systems.

The draft plan allows for towns to decide which neighboring towns they would want to work with, but by if some towns have not “voluntarily” decided by 2019, then the state would finish allocating which towns and districts would need to work together.

This outline will raise flags for some (removing some local control), but will also work to alleviate many duplications in services and hopefully will improve educational options for many children in Vermont.  While the overarching goal is to offer a wider range of class options for many students in Vermont, it will also serve as a tool to work to reduce costs by eliminating many administrative functions/positions.  Not all savings will be realized right away, as there are costs in transition, but as that work is completed, and as our workforce retires, there should be a reduction in the number of administrators.

Throughout the discussion of education funding and the challenges that we are facing with the current funding formula and the reduced rate of property values and the slow growth of other broad based tax revenues, I have been broaching the topic of human services functions that our educators are performing.

As our local schools are asked to do more and more functions that and human serviced related, we have seen an increase in our education spending and therefore more pressure on our property tax funding system.  It is my belief that we should move some of those functions to the area of government that is in charge of that…the agency of human services.  I have been raising the question of whether we can house some of the human services staff (either govt folks or contracted services) right in the schools.  This seems like a particularly good option as we ought to have space in the schools considering we have reduced enrollments (nearly across the state).  By moving these costs to the Agency of Human Services, we can rely on other, more progressive broad based taxes to fund them and move away from the pressure we have been putting onto the education fund.  We also ought to be able to get better results. Rather than each teacher having to learn and address the individual issues that various children have due to family circumstances, there will be councilors and support staff who already have experience with those families in their roles as community councilors.  With greater stability for the children, they ought to be able to learn better.

I am no education nor human services expert, so I am still working to learn more about what is possible, but on the surface, it seems to make sense to me!  Please email me with your thoughts as the more input I have the better.  If you are in these fields in particular and you have examples or experiences, or red flags to raise, please let me know.

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