Superintendents eye consolidation talk warily

Oct 12, 2017 By Katie Roenigk and Alejandra Silva, Staff writers

(Part 1 of 2)

Wyoming legislators studying the state's school funding model this year have been toying with the idea of consolidation, which some say would save money by combining each county's school districts into one overarching organization.

Some local superintendents are skeptical that consolidation would cut costs, however.

"I don't know how much money they'd save," Dubois principal Brandon Farris said.

He spoke specifically about the challenges consolidation would pose for students in his district, which is about 75 miles away from larger cities like Jackson, Lander and Riverton.

"We're so isolated," Farris said. "You'd be busing pretty far. ... It'd be pretty hard not to maintain at least a building (in Dubois)."

In Pavillion, another rural town, Fremont County School District 6 superintendent Diana Clapp agreed that students would have to travel too far to accommodate a consolidated local school district.

"We already work very hard to try to make sure that our students aren't on the bus more than two hours a day - an hour in the morning and an hour at night," she said. "We want to honor that time with parents."

Arapahoe school superintendent Ken Crowson said he was skeptical of the cost savings, too, pointing out that organizations like the Legislative Services Office, the Wyoming School Boards Association and the Wyoming Association of School Administrators all offered different dollar amounts when contemplating the savings that could be realized through consolidation.

"Even districts are coming up with their own numbers," Crowson said. "It's amazing that they're really not coming together as far as being similar."

There are different ways to look at a cost savings, he noted. For instance, if one superintendent takes over all Fremont County school districts, then that superintendent's salary will have to be increased, as will the salaries of teachers whose pupil counts increase.

In a late September memo issued to the Legislature's Select Committee on School Finance Recalibration, the state's newly hired consulting firm -- Augenblick, Palaich and Associates --stated that it's currently studying what the cost savings of consolidation would be.

In the firm's survey of more than 1,000 educational stakeholders across the state, less than 10 percent said they believed there would be cost savings as a result of consolidation.

The firm is also exploring reducing costs by having districts share services, though "many interviewees expressed reservations about sharing staff that work directly with students, due to lost time for traveling between schools and districts."

"However, interviewees thought there could be sharing possibilities for 'back room' services that do not involve working directly with students, such as shared maintenance, IT, business services like HR and procurement, professional development, common purchasing, and shared administration staff," the firm stated. "Many districts are already sharing services, particularly around professional development."

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