In the GOP gubernatorial debate last night, Victor Moffit attacked John Robitaille for being opposed to regionalized school districts.
Robitaille said there has been “no documentation that says it will save us any money,” and evidence that the “cost of administration per student” in the merged Chariho Regional School District is higher than it is in Westerly. Beyond that, “I believe that control of the schools should be at the local level.”
But Moffitt said “anyone in their right mind” would recognize that by whittling 36 school districts down to 4, “we are going to save money … and have less bureaucracy. Even John should understand there will be less bureaucracy.”
While we at OSPRI try to stay out of political campaigns, it is likely that the data mentioned in the debate came from our research so we are compelled to speak up. From our January 2009 report, “Regionalization, be careful what you wish for”
“It’s a very easy pitch to say 36 school districts with 36 superintendents are more expensive than five regionalized districts with five superintendents. Unfortunately, it’s not true,” said OSPRI President William Felkner. “I bought it too, until I saw the data.”
When comparing fully regionalized districts to similar size town districts we find that regionalized districts have the highest per pupil costs. One example is the Chariho Regional School District which was put together from three towns to make a school district whose student body is the same size as neighboring Westerly. But, the supposed economies of scale are nowhere on display in Chariho where administration costs per pupil are $825, forty percent more than the $589 spent in Westerly.
Indeed, when it comes to administration costs, the supposed venue for obvious savings, they are well above the median in ALL the regionalized districts.
Finding a light at the end of the tunnel, Felkner said, “If every taxpayer knew that the average raise for teachers in their first 10 years of service is 10.5%, I seriously doubt that those double digit raises would continue for very long.”
While education salaries are growing, it could be worse.
Presumably, teachers and their union representatives are well aware of the fact that state government FTE costs went up 35% from 2000-2006 inclusive, while teacher salaries in RI only increased 16.6%. The notion that Rhode Island’s individual districts would see costs savings from sophisticated statewide or regional negotiations is certainly drawn into question by these figures. This doesn’t mean that there is not more work to do on salaries, staffing levels, and results in RI, it simply suggests that regionalization in education is no panacea and likely would lead to higher costs and less taxpayer accountability.
“It is likely that when regionalization occurs, the taxpayers become disconnected from the management of their schools and costs spiral out of control due to a lack of accountability,” said Felkner. “Only when armed with information and access will taxpayers be able to regain control. While we may not always win when negotiating on the municipal level, we NEVER win on the state level.“
As a side note, the 10.5% average total raise for teachers in their first 10 years of employment (the “steps”) was from contacts obtained in 2008. We have been reviewing the new contracts and it appears the recession is having an impact. The latest average total raise for those same employees for the contracts we have received is now at 8.5%.
Is an 8.5% raise the kind of sacrifice you expected?