Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels talks alot about government efficiency. In 2007, he commissioned a study to discover where local governments could streamline their operations. The goal was to find ways to provide the same services with fewer tax dollars. There was one major educational suggestion to come out of that report– eliminate all school corporations with fewer than two thousand students. That accounts for nearly 50 percent of all districts in Indiana.
As we’ve reported, there has been resistance to this idea from both schools and education experts. As part of a series on referendums and rural schools, we talked to John Krauss– one of the men behind the study– about his research and the fallout of consolidation.
Q: What were the goals of the “Streamlining Local Government” report as it relates to education?
A: One of the things that the commission recognized at the outset was that they weren’t charged with any evaluation or analysis of curriculum of education. We were really looking at the administrative structure and the cost involved. When you’re looking around at the sizes of the school corporations, there are some very large school corporations and there are some that are very, very small. Yet they all have the same administrative structure as the other– for example, superintendents and assistant superintendents. They all had business managers, purchasing agents, HR departments, fleet managers, things like that. There was some cost savings and some degree of simplified responsibility if the districts would merge but not the schools. It was about looking at administrative overhead. It wasn’t about getting down to the delivery of the service.
Q: Do you think this plan has been implemented in any way?
A: I think overall, the local government recommendations which went out to townships and county governments spoke to ways in which there would be greater responsibility and accountability and recognition of their role. By instigating these changes you may have savings over time. When they didn’t do those things and they put in place property tax caps, it’s going to force municipal government to do things as a reaction to less money in manners in which they don’t want to do those things– in terms of cuts or consolidations or discontinuing programs– that they might have been able to work through a little better if they had adopted some of the consolidation or reorganization plans.
Q: Does the report take into account the rural nature of many small school districts?
Go back to the heart of the recommendation. The recommendation is that you still have school that serve the pupils– whether that school is governed by one administrative unit or its governed by another unit that shares with other schools and has more of a comprehensive look. I don’t think that takes away the requirement or the call that the school serve the children in that rural area. So we’re speaking to the administrative structure, not to serving students.
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