Monday, November 19, 2012

Last on the subject of consolidation

I’m reminded of the oft-repeated argument against consolidating school districts. It goes something like this: The new, bigger school district will still employ all the management overhead it already pays, while teachers in the lower paying districts will receive pay increases bringing them up the highest level already existing in the county.
This is simply rearranging the deck chairs on the same doomed ship. It’s recreating the same model on a larger scale. We have to go deeper than that and change the underlying assumptions and arrangements, remold the process and create a new operational mode.
For instance, we’d need only one high-paid superintendent instead of many. We would still have building principals for every school just as we do now, but they could have augmented authority and responsibilities. There would still be a lot of paperwork to be done, but it could be done by people hired, and paid to do paperwork, rather than given impressive titles justifying higher rewards than the jobs deserve.
As for some teachers getting paid more, I can only say good, it’s about time.
I think that the same new thinking must occur if governments, consolidated or not, are to be viable in the 21st Century. We must strive for efficiency and fairness in a completely new set of circumstance. The time has passed when the farmer, retired cobbler and the housewife could be expected to effectively operate multi-million dollar enterprises such as schools and towns with no other qualifications than they were residents.
Good intentions by often good people is no longer a sufficient qualification.

Even a board of directors served by the best and brightest advisers your tax money can buy, still needs to have a basis by which to understand when they are getting good or bad advice. They need preparation in the form of education, up-to-date information, training in modern concepts of personnel management, budgeting, educational techniques, unions, smart growth techniques, farmland and natural lands protection, flood control, road building and maintenance, running meetings, dealing with the public, contract management, construction theory, environmental issues, sewer and water, business techniques, commercial development, state regulations and other authorities or restraints, modern zoning techniques, the theory and practice of sub-divisions, the nature of the citizens being served, insurance, retirement benefits, time management, psychology, and much much more. Lacking at least most of these fields of knowledge leaves an elected official at the mercy of their staffs. Experience dictates that this is not always a wise course of action.
So, the net time you consider the unconventional idea of consolidation, try to think of it unconventionally. Bigger is not necessarily badder. Cities don’t fail because they are too big but because they are landlocked, or suffer too many tax-exempt properties, and are hamstrung by state regulations. These things can stymie even the most competent government.
Pennsylvania’s antiquated tax code underlies many of our issues and effectively prevents lasting resolutions.
Don’t think of just making the borough or township bigger; think of making it different: more efficient, more open, more fair, and very much more professional.

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