There are currently two bills in the State Senate (S.B. 454 and S.B. 457) proposing the consolidation/regionalization of small school districts. If either bill passes, Somers Public Schools would be forced to regionalize with surrounding towns. The underlying assumptions are there are too many Superintendents, Central Office Administrators, and Principals managing smaller school districts. Additionally, in the face of declining enrollment, schools should consolidate.
I am strongly opposed to these bills as they are short-sighted, a one-size fits all approach, uninformed, focused on head counts, and ignore other glaring data and unintended consequences. Below are some of the key points these bills ignore as well as effects if enacted.
Local Control – These bills impose the will of the state on local towns. Local control of our school district will diminish.
Student Enrollment – It is a fact student enrollment is declining (a critical argument of this bill). What is not considered are the national, historical enrollment trends.
Since 1955, enrollment trends have changed every 15-17 years. For example:
• 1955-1972 student enrollment increased
• 1973-1989 student enrollment decreased
• 1990-2005 student enrollment increased
• 2006-2019 student enrollment has decreased
The cause of these fluctuations are the Baby Boomers. In the 1950s and 1960s, Baby Boomers were entering schools (enrollment increased). They graduated from school from 1973-1989 (decreased enrollment). From 1990-2005, the children of the Baby Boomers entered school (enrollment increased). From 2006-present, the children of the boomers were graduating (decreased enrollment). We are currently nearing the end of a cycle and are preparing for the grandchildren of the Baby Boomers to enter school (enrollment increase). In fact, enrollment projections for Somers Elementary School show an increase of 9% by school year 2022-23.
Efficiency - Small school districts are often more efficient than large ones because administrative overhead is typically less. The recent Connecticut State Department of Education Per Pupil Expenditure Data (the cost to educate one child in a town) verifies that Somers is an efficient school district. Somers Per Pupil Expenditure is $15,855 compared to the State of Connecticut average of $18,762.
Community Focus – A regional Board of Education would be comprised of members from other communities. The focus and commitment to the students of Somers of a reconstituted Board of Education could be diminished. Often regionalized Boards may have agendas favoring their hometown and it could be challenging to sustain and/or implement essential initiatives for Somers students.
Varying Philosophies and Needs – Each town establishes their vision, mission, and programs based on what the community believes is in the best interest of its students. Consolidating school districts would force Somers to adopt other programming we feel is inappropriate or just not needed. This could result in added costs to the Somers taxpayers.
Systems Realignment – Each school system has a wide variety of educational and administrative systems (e.g., student information, financial, human resources, communications, curriculum development, professional development, literacy and math programs.) Regionalization would force Somers to abandon some of these systems in favor of new ones. This would result in significant costs in the purchase, set-up, data transfer, and training of all staff. Changing an instruction system we have dedicated time and effort implementing could have short-term negative impacts on student learning during the transition.
Collective Bargaining Agreements – Each district has negotiated bargaining agreements with various groups (e.g., teachers, custodians, secretaries, etc.) Contracts could conflict with bargaining agreements from other towns. This would require costly legal expenses to align all agreements.
Capital Improvement Projects – A regionalized school district often has its own capital improvement projects. This could significantly increase taxes to Somers residents. For example, if Town A needed to renovate their high school, the new Board of Education could approve this project for Town A, and Somers students would not benefit. The costs of these projects could be distributed to each town, regardless of its impact.
Human Resources Department – Larger school districts often have a necessity for human resource departments. The Business Manager and the Superintendent handle Somers’ human resources. Regionalization might require the establishment of a human resources department which could negate any costs savings by eliminating administrators.
Health Care – Somers, like all districts, provides employees with health insurance. The costs of health care increase each year. Somers minimizes this increase because it has a low Medical/RX Ratio (78%). If Somers were pooled with other districts who do not have a low Medical/Rx Ratio, premiums would increase substantially more. This increase would be passed on to both staff and taxpayers.