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Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Scott Graham, Superintendent of Northern Potter School Weighs In On School Consolidation In Pennsylvania

By reader request and with permission from Scott Graham, Solomon's words is republishing this excellent and informative editorial from the Northern Potter School News.

SOUP’s On: Governor Proposes Major School District Consolidation

By Scott V. Graham,
of Northern Potter School District

During his recent budget address on February 4, Governor Rendell proposed to create a legislative commission to study how best to consolidate Pennsylvania’s school districts.

The fact that the governor wants to study school district consolidation was not what garnered most of the attention. This topic has been discussed for years in the legislature. What was surprising to many was the magnitude to which the governor’s proposal would consolidate districts.

The governor’s goal is to consolidate the current 500 school districts in Pennsylvania to no more than 100 school districts. While no particulars of how he would propose to do this were offered, it appears the governor wants to create “county school districts” in Pennsylvania.

Under the governor’s proposal, the legislative commission
would have one year to develop a plan for the reorganization of school districts. After a period of public comment, the General Assembly would be required to give an “up” or “down” vote to each commission consolidation plan within six months. If the General Assembly rejects both plans, the law would give authority for consolidating school districts with the State Board of Education.

Why is the governor proposing this? According to the Department of Education, it is to reduce administrative costs. They went on to say that, “Reducing the number of school districts would not necessitate the closure of individual schools, but could instead improve the effectiveness and efficiency of public education through other means.”

How would this plan affect the Northern Potter School District? At this point, it is only speculation, but reducing the school districts from 500 to 100 will certainly have the following effects:

1. The Northern Potter School Board will be eliminated
and a county or central school board made up of several districts would be created. Our district would have minimal representation on that board.

2. One superintendent will be in charge of the entire county or what currently are multiple school districts. Other administrative staff, not currently employed by the five (5) Potter County Districts, would need to be employed. Examples may include Assistant Superintendent(s), Curriculum Directors, Special Education Directors, Director of Federal Programs, etc. The central office staff would be located centrally in the county, likely Coudersport.

3. Each of the districts that consolidates will merge all of their assets and liabilities (including debt) into one budget. Should this scenario occur, the taxpayers of Northern Potter will be helping to pay for the new multi-million dollar building project in the Coudersport School District.

I can continue with other potential scenarios, but under a county-wide school district, everything becomes centralized. I have spent half of my professional
career in a county school system (West Virginia), so I have a great deal of knowledge how a county-wide system works. Here are some facts about West Virginia’s school district consolidation:

1. From 1990-2000, West Virginia closed over 300 schools.

2. The state has spent more than $1 billion on school consolidation.

3. The state’s School Building Authority acknowledged
in September 2002 that school closings did not save taxpayers money.

4. West Virginia districts statewide spend a higher percentage of their budgets on maintenance and utilities now than five years ago, despite consolidation.

5. The number of local administrators increased by 16% - despite a 13% decrease in student enrollment and more than 300 fewer schools.

6. The number of state-level administrators
increased and their salaries nearly doubled.

7. West Virginia spends more of its education dollar on transportation than any other state. (Source: Webinar
Presentation by Marty Strange, Policy Director Rural School and Community Trust, October 22, 2008.)

I challenge the governor, Department of Education, or anyone to cite an example where a major district consolidation effort did not lead to school closures. The governor’s proposal, should it become a reality, will forever change the schools and districts of Potter County and in my opinion, “not for the better.”

Listed below are the names and addresses of your local legislators if you would like to contact them regarding this topic. If you would like more information
on this topic, please call my office at 848-7506.

Mr. Martin T. Causer
State Representative
67th Legislative District
2 Allegany Avenue
Coudersport, PA 16915
Ph: 814-274-9769

Senator Joseph B. Scarnati
Pennsylvania’s 25th District
410 Main Street
Brockway, PA 15824
Ph: 814-265-2030


Anonymous said...

I agree, I see no good to come if this happens.

Anonymous said...

There is another side to this story. Each school district employs a superintendent. Some of these (Flint in Port Allegany is one) make more than $100,000(!) in an annual salary plus very generous benefits. There is other duplication that could be eliminated if the districts could be consolidated. This doesn't mean closing the SCHOOLS, it means getting rid of some of the high-paying administration jobs that are duplicated in every school district. If there was central administration rather than every district having all these high-paying jobs, our school taxes could be held down and we could still have the same number of schools, teachers, academic programs, extracurriculars and other things we have today. Just fewer administrators and hundreds of thousands of dollars in annual savings.

Anonymous said...

8:47:00 PM
Agree with you 100%!

Anonymous said...

I dont get how you figure your going to save superintendants positions. Each school is then going to have to have a "asst. super" to take care of the same things the current ones do. They will just be called something else. There salary's will be almost as high and then you will have a grand puubba superintendant that will likely be paid far more. And as for the other admin staff they still need to be there. Nobody realizes the amount of work the individual Bus managers, transportation Sec, and other office staff have now, they will still be there doing the same things maybe under a new title. One set of administrator's cant handle what they would likely have to do. If this saves any money do you actually think the savings would show to the taxpayer, of course not the money would end up elsewhere. I think they should just leave well enough alone.

Anonymous said...

Stop the scare tactics. The schools have in place now the jobs you people say that have to be created. The schools now have Vice Principals that can do the work. Must be some Super writing on this blog to scare the taxpayers.

Anonymous said...

In reference to 10:26 statement:
The writing and tone of post 9:45 looks like a certain butt kissing director!

Anonymous said...

It wasn't too awful long ago 1 man was the business manager at Northern we have a business manager (that has requested and received a raise all ready and it has only been one year!)with an assistant and someone else was hired to help or take care of the school bus paper work?!

Looks to me like this school is paying 3 people to do what 1 person did before he retired! I knew it would be hard to replace Rodney Cowburn.

The new business manager started out at a little over 45 K for her first year, had never been a business manager of any school. Requested 15 K + the same % the teachers receive as their pay raise. The school board approved a 3 K raise annually locked in for the next 2 years with no % given. So she will be making over 51 K in two years. That is damn good money for a green horn that has 2 other people assisting her if you ask me.

I though you received raises in any administrative position that is not union by performance, that usually takes more than one year doesn't it?! After all when these positions are filled the applicants are aware of the duties and the rate of pay when hired. I personally know another woman that has been a career school business manager and it took her YEARS to work her way up to this kind of money!

With our economy in the shape it is in, I would think there would be a hold placed on the wages of all jobs the tax payers money is used for! My bad!

Anonymous said...

Now, think of the article where several schools boards in our district voted to hire a firm to write grants. The money each school is going to contribute, well the supers should have they pay cut that amount. That was their job to write grants, the school board just cut they work load for them. By the way, is there a super in our district that makes less than $100,000? Doubt it.

Anonymous said...

All about money but nothing about the quality of education and the youth attending....How sad!!!

I haven't seen a school district close yet that made it better for the youth. That is what I have a problem with and that is all I know.

Anonymous said...

When I first read about the school consolidation idea in the Northern Potter school flyer, I immediately wrote to Senator Scarnati and Rep. Causer. I expressed the same concerns about this idea and I too used West Virginia as a plan-gone-bad. This morning I received a phone call from the office of the Lt. Gov. Sen. Scarnati had forwarded my letter and they wanted to discuss my concerns. In a nutshell, I was told there is a great deal of opposition to this plan and it is beginning to look like it will go nowhere. Sen. Scarnati has many concerns about it himself. Anyone who is opposed to this idea should write to both him and Rep. Causer. Northern Potter has always held education excellence in very high regard. That is why we moved to this district. We would be extremely upset if we had to begin supporting the Coudersport district with our tax dollars. What a terrible thought!

Bernard "Mike" Fowler said...

I am a former business education teacher certified to teach accounting and office technologies. There are, indeed, many ways our local schools districts could reduce costs. However, any dollar amount saved by our local schools districts would be p...ed away one-thousand fold in Harrisburg.
Mike Fowler
Austin, PA

Anonymous said...

Well said Mike!! B Jones

Anonymous said...

Well, as far as I am concerened the SUPER NINTENDO AKA The Superintendents need a pay decrease. All they do is sit in an office all day looking at a desk, talking on a phone, and looking at a computer screen. The Custodians in the schools do a hell of alot more then the Super Nitendo will ever do. I say the Board of Education should terminate Super's position. Its no more that a Pricipal can do. I Totally agree with you REP. CHICK on this one.


Solomon's words for the wise said...

Please don't do away with the Superintendent's job. I was planning to devote my next life to studying hard, getting the degrees, and being one. Jim

Anonymous said...

It was my understanding that the new superintendant at Northern Potter came from Vermont and was the superintendant of several schools at the time!

Mr. Graham did not mention this in his article, is there a reason for this?

Did that state cut back and consolidate their school districts to save the state money?

Just seems odd that the new superintendant is talking about W VA when his last job was in another state.

Anonymous said...

I also think the superintent's make a axorbanant amount of money, but it's not like it is just here, they are in line with every other district in the state. I think there are many ways the districts could save money and many of them are trying new things. I just dont think consolidation is the answer.

Anonymous said...

If you want to get your degree to be a superintendant in your next life, just go on line. I know of one that got his Dr. that way, yeahhh.

Scott Graham said...

I would be happy to explain why I did not mention my superintendency in Vermont. I was superintendent of a supervisory union in Vermont. Each school in Vermont had their own school board and their own budget. I had seven school boards I was responsible for which included 25 Board members. I hope Pennsylvania is not considering the Vermont model because it would literally bankrupt the state. Vermont has one of the highest cost per pupils in the United States, more than $6,000 per student more than Potter County. I am assuming that the state would not even consider a model like that. The governor's proposal of 100 districts is more in line with a county system like they have in states south of the Mason-Dixon line.
My experience in West Virginia was in such a county system.

Anonymous said...

Look out Austin....Your school is gonna go by the way side..Don't be side tracked by what they are feeding ya....Looking at the big picture..The Austin School will be the next community center/civic center....beware Ausin

Anonymous said...

What are the actual savings going to be? Will there be a savings by buying food,cleaning supplies, books and other items in bulk? Many questions to ask and be answered, or will the savings only in the loss of numerous superintendants ?

Anonymous said...

There will be no saving's, at least they will never be seen. This has been geared towards the more populated areas were there are schools 1 mile apart from each other, there probably wont be much affect in the rural area's.

Anonymous said...

"Each school in Vermont had their own school board and their own budget. I had seven school boards I was responsible for which included 25 Board members."

Sounds like a plan that could cut back on our superintendants at the very least!

With each of them making over 6 digit figures we could save a wad!

Seven school boards...hmmmm Coudy, Galeton, NoPo, Austin here are 4 that he or someone else could be responsible for and it would save all us tax payers at the very least 300,000.00 in salaries and quit a bit more in beneifits! Heck if we had their exact figures I am certain it would be 1/2 million saved if not more when you consicer 401K's, health insurance, etc.!

That would be a good start...

Anonymous said...

"and it would save us 300,000 in salaries"

That is what i am talking about, you people are fools to think that money would be saved. It would just get squandered away somewhere, why not keep it local. Also it sounds like everyone only wants this to happen to get rid of some super's, sound like a little jealousy to me.

Anonymous said...

My concern is that when you consolidate school districts, the classes get bigger, the teachers more harried, and the students don't get as much one-on-one interaction with the teachers. That will mean lower test scores that will decrease state funding to help pay teacher's salaries and buy supplies such as text books and desks. These students are going to end up like the big city districts...sharing books, desks, and not getting enough attention from the teachers. Not to mention the transportation costs alone that are going to go up and add on more time to the students day...they already have to take work home to do that can take hours to do....we want to add on another 30-60 minutes in travel time? That doesn't make sense. It would also increase fighting because when you have that many kids in one place, there's going to be heated arguments, especially between rival schools. Granted, once they get used to going to school with their rivals that would probably decrease. However, when a school gets overcroweded it is not going to go well. And I have no idea if they are going to build a new school or just use Coudy's, because that school is not big enough to contain all these kids they want to send here. I sure hope they start answering some of these questions because it's not looking good so far.

Anonymous said...

You may think this is something; wait until you see who they are thinking of bringing in to teach your kids parenting skills.

Anonymous said...

8:35:00 PM

I do not agree with your jealousy theory but I do agree this will probable sound good but will not cut back any of our school taxes we pay in.

Our County cut back on Dist. Justice offices here not too long ago, did anyone's county tax go down? Oh ya that's right they just did not go up.

But a lot of businesses in the county have cut back, laid off and shut their doors!

Northern Potter cut back on bus routes from one of their contract holders, to save them money in their budget...hmmmm now the business manager requests and receives a raise?
Guess we now know where that money that was saved just went!

And by the way, I attended this meeting and there were only 3 board members that wanted to hold the line on this raise and voted "no" Rick VanEtten, Mike Grimes and Jeannie Sherman, my hats off to you 3 for looking out for the school districts best interest!

Anonymous said...

Poster 1:01 pm

Your right on. The state would not build another school nor would they be able to bus student's much farther. All this talk about school consolidation and it hasn't even been seriously looked at yet, you people just wait and see, this is going to have little or no affect in "rural" PA.

Anonymous said...

Some are missing the point that this would not cut down on schools or teachers and would not make classes sizes bigger. It would cut down on some of the duplicate administrator jobs such as superintendent. How do you Roulette Township people feel about the raises they just gave out in Port Allegany School District. Tony Flint will get $106,000 a year plus sweet sweet benefits; Budd will make $85,000 and Bodamer $82,000 plus the sweet sweet benefits and they even have some "assistant principal" making $65,000 and don't forget the "business manager" at $62,000 and all the support back office staff, and that is just to run one school district.
These administrators are very worried about their cushy jobs because they KNOW that administration of school districts could be combined and save the taxpayers a lot of money without having to close schools or eliminate teachers.
They cannot hide that truth so they change the subject.
Look at the numbers!

Anonymous said...

12:46:00 PM

Great post!

Anonymous said...

No, you dont understand. consolidation of schools isnt going to save us taxpayers diddly squat. If you honestly believe it well than you should grow up and join the real world. When has anything the govt done saved taxpayers money?