IOW lawmaker’s school consolidation study bill dies

Published 11:01 am Saturday, February 18, 2012


RICHMOND—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 this week.

Sponsor Del. Rick Morris, R-Carrollton, said the goal was to “look for cost-savings.”

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 school divisions. Neighboring districts — especially ones with relatively small numbers of students — might share certain instructional or administrative resources, such as a budget office or specialty teachers.

■ Combining administrative personnel between a school district and the local governing body. For instance, a school system and the city or county might have a single unit for planning and budgets.

Morris 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 and saved $180,000. That’s a lot of money,” he said. “If the savings were divided among Isle of Wight teachers, it would not be ‘a bad raise.’”

Isle of Wight’s school division and county government also share procurement and human resources services, and 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.

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.

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

As for the idea of consolidating school districts, she would have to see 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, she 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.’ That is business, but remember — in education, we are charged with personalizing learning for students, which you can’t always do in business.”