3-17-16 – Consolidation Does Not Equal Savings

by Stu Lindberg 
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ACT 153, which encouraged but did not mandate school district consolidation, was pushed by Governor Shumlin and passed by the legislature in 2009 (taking effect in 2010). It was promoted as a way to save large amounts of money, create efficiency and improve our educational system “for the children.” ACT 46, which goes further by mandating consolidation and is currently being implemented in our towns, was sold with the same bold claims.
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Here’s some experience from my area that might shed some light on what we can actually expect to result from consolidated school districts….
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In 2011, Windsor Southwest Supervisory Union (WSWSU) had an average of 1000 students in four schools and a total budget of $1,649,536. This was just prior to the act 153 state mandates that took Financial Services, Special Education and Transportation away from locally controlled school boards and put them under the purview of the Supervisory Unions (S.U.).
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In 2012-13, WSWSU and Rutland Windsor South S.U. came together to form a new Two Rivers Supervisory Union (TRSU) through the ACT 153 merger law. Today, TRSU has a total enrollment of about that same 1000 students, though now encompassing six schools: Green Mountain Union HS, Cavendish Town Elementary School, CAES, Mount Holly, Black River HS and Ludlow Elementary School. (During the merger, WSWSU’s Flood Brook Union School left to join another new Regional Educational District connected to Manchester, Vermont.)
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Let’s compare budgets. Remember the 2011 budget for WSWSU’s 1000 kids was $1,649,536. Today, the total budget for FY 2016 at TRSU — the same number of kids, albeit for two more physical schools — is $5,352,093.
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Now, the massive increase in the S.U. budget can be partially explained by the cost shift of services from locally controlled schools to the Supervisory Unions. But, given that shift, you would think there would be a corresponding decrease in the budgets of the local schools. This is not the case. The budgets of these schools are either staying close to level funded or they are increasing by a few percentage points.
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Savings? No. Not at all.
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An examination of fiscal services (accounts payable, accounts receivable and payroll) offers one example of the difficulty of finding efficiency in centralizing and consolidating school services.
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In 2011, Cavendish Town Elementary School was the last hold out, doing their financial services “in house” rather than outsourcing to the S.U. The cost per student for financial services was $224.06. CTES was using a local control, decentralized, distributive power model of doing business.  But today, TRSU is spending $431.72 per student – nearly double what it was when done locally. This is the new progressive, consolidated, centralized power model of doing business!
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One could easily jump the gun and blame school board members and administrators for the absence of cost savings, but not so fast! School boards are told quite clearly, by highly-paid, “expert” consultants that they must comply with the edicts coming out of the Vermont Agency of Education. These edicts have the full force of law as enacted by the legislature and signed by Governor Shumlin, and they cost money.
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So what we are seeing is a loss of local control regarding how to spend money efficiently as it is shifted away from local boards to the S.U. – another level of expanded bureaucracy — while spending is being driven higher by an even further removed central authority in Montpelier passing along mandates. It’s the worst of all worlds.
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Hold tightly to your wallets Vermonters. The tax man is coming.
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Stu Lindberg is former member of the Cavendish Elementary School Board.

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Richard R. Virkstis March 18, 2016 at 4:05 pm

To Whom It May Concern:

Is there a way for a Supervisory Union District to operate as a consolidator for its District Schools, allowing them to remain, to some degree, under their own control while pursuing within the Union District, the benefits the State seeks in terms of educational equity and cost savings? Any thoughts? Thanks

Reply

Richard R. Virkstis March 18, 2016 at 4:07 pm

To Whom It May Concern:

Is there a way for a Supervisory Union District to operate as a consolidator for its District Schools, save Unification, allowing them to remain, to some degree, under their own control while pursuing within the Union District, the benefits the State seeks in terms of educational equity and cost savings? Any thoughts? Thanks

Reply

Doug Richmond, Underhill March 19, 2016 at 3:42 am

Nobody is going to lose a job by consolidation. You just get a hugher? bureaucracy, so the top people need a lot bigger salary. More bean counters,more “performance” reports, more waste, more one size fits all, and looking at schools with a telescope, rather than walking the halls talking to students and staff..

Zero benefits here!

Reply

Doug Richmond, Underhill March 19, 2016 at 3:47 am

recent annual school meeting, discussing big districts and consolidation. I foolishly asked the two or three from the district offices, if, they could name any of the jobs which could be eliminated, which people would not be needed if we did consolidation.
You would have thought I had suggested that several people be taken out and shot! They looked stunned, mouths agape, and none of them could stammer even a word – even after a LONG pause.
No kidding, zero savings.

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Jim Bulmer March 20, 2016 at 5:42 pm

Why is it Vermonters always get sucked with a the bill of goods the Dems push prior to passing stupid and devastating legislation loaded with unintended consequences?????????? Will we ever learn???????? Once the bill has been passed and signed into law and reality sets in, the Dems always say “oops, that’s isn’t what we had in mind.” Damage done!!!!!!!!! Year in and year out they foist off on us reams of stupidity!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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Stu Lindberg March 20, 2016 at 8:19 pm

The mathematics that I learned in grade school and have used my entire life is not remotely similar to that used by the Shumlin administration and the majority of legislators the citizens of Vermont have sent to represent them under the golden dome.

I call the mathematics used under the golden dome Gruber/Shumlin math. It is the kind of math that rationalizes spending $300 million dollars on the Vermont Health Connect/Exchange the same time NH spent only $9 million for using the federal exchange. The Gruber/Shumlin math allows for the Democrats to tell you, with a straight face, that this “deal” is saving the taxpayer money and working wonders for Vermonters.

Reply

forbes May 12, 2016 at 1:25 am

NH has over 1 million people while VT. has just over 500 thousand people.. What is wrong with this picture?

Reply

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