Consolidation. Regionalization. Shared services.
Whatever form it has taken, the idea of trying to cut redundant costs in municipal or school budgets has been a hard sell for many years.
There is some merit to local officials’ reluctance to relinquish control of the jobs and spending they are in charge of. The thinking is that locals know more about what their schools or towns need.
But clinging too tightly to the idea of “home rule” gets in the way of saving taxpayers money. With schools in particular, there are inherent inefficiencies in a system that has 600 or so separate districts and a state funding formula that continues to fall short of expectations.
Actions at two area school districts offer at least some hope local officials will eventually be compelled by economic realities to cut costs where state efforts to mandate or offer incentives for change have failed.
Administrators at Mainland Regional High School recently decided to have district Superintendent Mark Marrone take on the additional role of principal of the high school. And in Ocean County, the Pinelands Regional and Little Egg Harbor Township school districts agreed to have Little Egg Superintendent Melissa McCooley assume the same job for the regional district, which includes Little Egg as a sending district.
Hopefully, the moves are not just temporary solutions to specific local problems. Maybe they become examples for other districts on how to achieve efficiency.
At Mainland, the principal’s post opened up when Kevin Burns asked to return to his former position as vice principal. The reshuffling creates a third vice principal position where there normally are two, but Marrone says roles will be redefined to make the most efficient use of the individuals’ talents. The school board is negotiating the terms of a new agreement for Marrone in his dual role.
The change in Ocean County came after months of problems related to a controversial construction project at the high school that forced students out of the school for months. The grade seven through 12 Pinelands Regional district also had been searching for a permanent superintendent for two years.
Little Egg Harbor’s McCooley said she was approached by members of her local school board to apply for the regional position as a way to share services and save costs. Pinelands officials say the hiring is not necessarily a move toward consolidation of the sending and receiving districts. But it is a positive step in a state that, despite ever-rising school taxes, has yet to reach the point where officials and voters embrace more significant changes.
The exact savings of the two moves will become clear in time, but they show a willingness by school officials to reorganize in a way that market demands of a struggling economy forced many private businesses to do in recent years.
Other school districts should pay close attention to Mainland and Pinelands to see what they can learn.