Districts should work together
May 3, 2011 · Updated 1:05 PM
Your April 23 editorial (“Local bailout for our schools”) raises a couple of issues that need to be addressed seriously, with innovative thinking and respect for the people who ultimately pay the bill for all government programs.
As you point out, property owners pay the taxes that pay the bills that governments use to provide services for all citizens. If our state legislators are going to borrow money to pay for today’s expenses, how can they provide guidance or assistance to local public entities with ways to deal with current economic shortfalls?
The Oak Harbor School District is “tinkering” (your word) with ideas that seem unlikely to overcome budget deficiencies. Coupeville School District is expecting teacher layoffs and program cuts. Yet neither district is considering a cost cutting measure that would save both of them from curtailing their basic responsibility of educating school children: Consolidating the two into one district.
Consolidation would benefit from economy of scale in areas like bulk purchases, insurance coverage and interoperability. It would eliminate duplicative administrative positions in maintenance, curriculum, student counseling, accounting and other areas not committed to teaching. In the long term there should be cost savings in facilities management and construction because of greater flexibility of usage. And none of this would impede the “autonomy” of high school sports teams.
You also mentioned the probable future need for transportation levies to keep the school buses running. Has anyone noticed that we taxpayers are supporting two “free” bus systems? Many of our school buses are seen on the roads with few if any kids on board. Island Transit provides free rides from Clinton to Mount Vernon. Yet no one has suggested that some cooperative scheduling between the schools and the taxpayer supported bus system might save the taxpayer some funds. I guess since it is “somebody else’s money” it’s easier to just do things the way we have done them rather than try to find ways to avoid killing the goose that laid the golden egg.
For instance, the director of Island Transit said that it is not cost effective to charge a fare to ride on their buses. But every time I have ridden on Jefferson County buses I have had to pay to ride. Yet I cannot use the Island County system because the nearest bus stop is six miles from my home.
So we should demand that all recipients of public funds (our tax dollars) develop new ways to cooperate with each other (when applicable) to save public funds (our tax dollars) and do complete reviews of their organizational structures to find ways to reduce spending while continuing to meet their basic responsibilities.
As you suggest, education is central to our success as a society, but ancillary services need to be supported, too. We need everyone involved to think “outside of the box.”
James K. Johnston, Ed.D.