No School District Consolidation needed in Delaware!
Posted: May 15, 2018 7:43 PM
(Dover, Del) - A Legislative Task Force report released on Tuesday, May 15, 2018, says Delaware could save money and improve services to public school students through a series of recommendations, but consolidation is not needed.
The School District Consolidation Task Force has spent the better part of the last nine months reviewing school functions from several angles and collecting nearly 200 comments from residents. The group, comprised of educators, school administrators, parents, advocates and legislators, was divided into four sub-committees: teachers and staff, structure, finance, and academics and student needs.
The task force ultimately did not recommend consolidating any school districts, as most options would not yield substantial cost savings and would create logistical issues. However, the recommendations and findings do point to additional ways to possibly save money as well as ways to positively impact academic performance for all children, including those with disabilities, English language learners (ELL), and those who come from low-income families.
"The overall effect of consolidating to just three districts would result in minimal savings at best and would create numerous problems related to facilities management, personnel management, salary, transportation and other logistical issues that would more than negate the benefit of any savings," the task force reported.
The group indicated that there could be some significant financial benefit to consolidation of two or three contiguous districts, and that the issue should be revisited.
Task Force Chair Rep. Earl Jaques said that the group was thorough in its review and offered multiple opportunities for public input in all three counties. While the concept of district consolidation is popular, the actual implementation of consolidation created concerns from residents and logistical issues that would complicate simple, widespread consolidation.
"We learned a great deal during this process, and while we found that simply combining our school districts isn't the best option, we did discover several opportunities to save the state money, improve services and provide a better educational environment for our students and educators alike," Rep. Jaques said.
"I'm grateful to the hard work that so many dedicated people put into this task force. It's my hope that we are able to implement some of these recommendations quickly to have a positive impact on our educational system."
The four sub-committees issued more than 30 recommendations in the report, including:
• Move forward with each county reassessing property values. Reassessment could provide the funding to allow current underfunded districts the dollars they need to fill positions in the schools that are currently vacant due to lack of funds.
• Review and revise the 1970s formulas which are currently used to bring the service of student transportation up to modern-era funding standards.
• Commission a gap analysis of the hardware, software and personnel structures in Delaware public schools.
• Negotiate a statewide contract for employee attendance, substitute assignment, and online application systems.
• Review potential financial savings associated with consolidation of county services: specialty equipment, trash services, custodial supplies, maintenance contracts, relationship between state agencies and education agencies.
• Consider sharing services for unique language learners.
• Review the Unit System formula to ensure funding for positions in the schools that are currently not included in the formula. The last time the formula was revised was 2005 - there have been a number of newly created positions in the schools during the past 13 years.
• Institute meetings between the three formal committees of the responsible procurement officials for the districts and representatives from OMB and the Data Service Center on a monthly basis, in an effort to find savings in the current district system. The committees should be charged with analyzing any and all opportunities to reduce expenses.
"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," said Secretary of Education Dr. Susan Bunting, who chaired the Academics & Student Needs Sub-Committee. "This experience has sparked conversations and ideas that will extend beyond the task force."
Structure Sub-Committee chair Dr. Kevin Carson said he believes "the sub-committee and task force work provided a learning opportunity for all participants to better understand the challenges of managing school districts, recognition of great work being done every day to provide the best possible learning environments, and the initiation of further collaborative efforts to continue to improve our economies of scale."
Finance Sub-Committee chair Fred Sears noted that the panel spent a great deal of time analyzing the pros and cons of consolidating school districts into just three districts, but "the benefits and savings were outweighed by increased expenses, facilities management and transportation issues and other problems that would be created through this process."
"With that in mind we looked for opportunities to create savings in other areas and to create new funding resources," Mr. Sears said. "In the end, our recommendations centered on moving forward with a statewide reassessment of property values to hopefully create additional funding for the districts that are currently considerably under-funded and to create a revenue resource to fund programs in schools in low income/poverty areas of the state.
"We hope the legislators and the governor will give serious consideration to taking positive action on these recommendations as well as the proposals presented by the other sub-committees."
In addition to the final report, the task force also commissioned the University of Delaware's Institute for Public Administration (IPA) to perform an analysis of Delaware public school administrations to include a comparison with neighboring states and work with national organizations to identify national trends and best practices.
The IPA study will review and present the current funding formulas for building and district-level administrative positions and demonstrate how administrative positions are utilized and funded in the 19 Delaware public school districts. The report is expected to be completed later this year.