York County's Republican House delegation is pursuing a study of limited consolidation of 15 York County school districts, asking the state's Independent Fiscal Office to examine whether merging administrations would save taxpayers money.
The legislators want the IFO to operate the study under a scenario in which there would be just one countywide school board and one property tax rate for a 15-district super-district, as well as a drastically reduced number of higher-level administrators, said Rep. Seth Grove, R-Dover Township, who's leading the effort.
Grove said this scenario avoids the "Everybody loves their mascot" school loyalty concern that has plagued past proposals; students would stay where they are, and there wouldn't be changes at the school level.
The cost savings would come from cutting the number of administrators, the highest-paid school district staff, at the district level.
There are 214 administrators - ranging from superintendents and assistant superintendents to directors of curriculum and business managers - in the 15-district study area, Grove said.
Those 214 people are paid a total of $45 million per year, ranging from 4 to 6 percent of each school district's budget, Grove said.
"Which is not outlandish, because some charities are running administrative costs at 8 percent, but we want to see if we could (consolidate those positions) for a cost savings," he said.
One huge district: "But everybody always points to other states with countywide school systems and says, 'If we did it, it would save millions and millions of dollars,'" he said. "Theoretically, one superintendent instead of (15) would save you money. That sounds great, but I'm not sure it is accurate. This study should help to prove it one way or another."
There are numerous considerations involved in consolidation, including whether the new arrangement would change the level at which York's district would receive state and federal funding, he said.
Grove said merging the administration of the 15 districts would make the York County school district the state's second largest, with 62,000 students. That's behind Philadelphia's 102,000 students.
West Shore School District is excluded from the study because half of that district is located in Cumberland County.
Legislators will also have to evaluate how to roll the individual debt of each school district into one system and how the change would affect the tax rate in each district, as well as the proposed configuration's effect on state allocations, he said.
There's a "hold-harmless" clause in the state formula that should ensure the funding level would at least stay the same, he said.
Administrator responds: To be determined is how many administrators would be laid off if there's legislation drafted and it passes.
James Buckheit, executive director of the Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators, said he suspects the school districts are operating more efficiently than people realize.
"That's not to say we can't be more efficient, but county systems are not always the most cost-effective solution," he said.
An in-house study by his group used national data to show that Pennsylvania has fewer administrators per 1,000 students than all but one state with a county-based system, he said.
"There's always going to be a ratio of management to line employees and actually in education it's fairly low," Buckheit said.
Administrators spend a lot of their time fulfilling the paperwork requirements pushed down to them from state and federal legislators, he said.
Buckheit said cost savings shouldn't be the only factor considered when examining consolidation, including quality-of-education and accountability.
"We're certainly open to any legitimate study and more cost-effective ways to operate school districts in the commonwealth, but we also need to be cognizant of the desire of many communities to have local school boards," he said. "They would like school board members to be their neighbors ... to be more responsive to the needs of the community."
Grove said the study is expected to be finished Dec. 15, 2014, and it's "not forced, but just an initial study" to consider the issue.
"I think people want to see efficiency in government," he said. "They want to see more service for the money they're paying in. Do they want more administration or more into the classroom?"
Grove and the rest of the Republican delegation plans to discuss the issue during a 1:30 p.m. meeting Friday at York County School of Technology's Room 1101, 2179 S. Queen St.
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