Bill to study school district consolidation dies

Published 9:36 pm Monday, February 20, 2012

By Leah Small
Capital News Service

A proposal inspired by Isle of Wight County to study the benefits of consolidating certain administrative functions of school districts and local governments died in the House last week.

Delegate Rick Morris, the sponsor of House Joint Resolution 110, said the goal was to “look for cost savings and apply those cost savings to the classroom.”

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The study would have been conducted by the Joint Legislative and Audit Review Commission, the General Assembly’s investigative arm. The commission would have investigated cost efficiencies in regionalizing neighboring school divisions — such as two smaller districts sharing a budget office or specialty teachers — as well as combining administrative personnel between a school division and the local governing body.

The resolution had been assigned to the House Rules Committee. A subcommittee had recommended tabling the matter; the resolution did not make it out of the committee or to the House floor. As a result, it died on Tuesday, the deadline for each legislative chamber to act on its own legislation.

Morris, a Republican, represents the 64th House District, which includes parts of Isle of Wight, Prince George, Southampton, Surry and Sussex counties and parts of the cities of Franklin and Suffolk.

He said Isle of Wight’s experience in combining county and school services inspired his resolution.

“In Isle of Wight, they consolidated the school attorney with the county attorney — saves $180,000. That’s a lot of money,” Morris said. If the savings were divided among Isle of Wight teachers, he said, it would not be “a bad raise.”

Isle of Wight’s school division and county government also share procurement and human resources services, and they are looking into combining others, such as maintenance services.

Morris said schools and local governments could save money by combining vehicle maintenance departments.

“There will be localities where the county will have their own transportation [office], the school district has their own, and even the sheriff’s office will have its own transportation office,” he said. In such cases, Morris asserts, it might be more cost-efficient to have a single office with a team of mechanics servicing school buses, police cars and other vehicles.

Katrise Perera, superintendent of Isle of Wight public schools, supports consolidating services when the economic need arises.

“The economic situation our country has been in has obviously prompted Isle of White County to move into the direction of consolidating some things with our county seat,” Perera said.

As for the idea of consolidating school districts, Perera said she would have to see any plans before jumping on board. One of her concerns is the possible effect on teachers’ salaries.

“Sometimes when you combine a district, the salaries are not always the same, and that might be a concern of educators,” Perera said. “Some of our neighboring districts, we either exceed or lag a little bit behind.”

Another concern is the loss of personalized education.

“Coming from the nation’s seventh-largest district, what attracted me to Isle of Wight was the personalization you can get, because it is a smaller entity as opposed to it being just a number in a large school district,” Perera said.

Before coming to Isle of Wight, Perera was an administrator in the Houston Independent School District, which has more than 200,000 students. Isle of Wight has 5,500 students.

“There are some things that need to be taken into consideration without just saying, ‘Economically, yes, this makes sense,’” Perera said. “That is business, but remember — in education, we are charged with personalizing learning for students, which you can’t always do in business.”

Morris said consolidating certain functions, between school divisions or between a school district and local government, is worth considering. His resolution noted that Virginia has “132 school divisions of varying sizes, with some public school divisions serving localities whose population is in excess of 1 million persons and others whose population is less than 5,000 persons.”