Wednesday, April 11, 2007

State Superintendent Flanagan Podcasts

Our State Superintendent, Mike Flanagan, has been podcasting for several months. He does a great job, and I hope local superintendents consider using this technology to communicate as they try to reshape their districts.

These podcasts are available in both audio and video forms here:

Michigan Department of Education: Superintendent Podcasts

His most recent topic is the consolidation of services.

I'd like to add some commentary for you to consider as you listen to his thoughts.

"Consolidation of Services" refers to the effort to move district operations up to a regional - typically countywide - organization.

Flanagan cites as an example the thought of shifting responsibility for transportation from each individual district up to the county ISD level. That way, rather than having individual transportation directors in each district, you might instead have "hub managers". The ISD would presumably assume responsibility for stocking parts, routing, employing mechanics, etc.

The idea has merit, and would likely save districts money.

But, I have a concern that the effort to promote regional services is not likely to produce significant savings in suburban districts, and will derail any efforts to consolidate districts, which I believe would yield significantly more savings.

Regionalizing services would increase purchasing power, especially for the smaller districts. And pooling workers will undoubtedly generate savings. However, I question how much savings can be achieved.

One of the theories behind consolidating services is that centrally locating the "worker bees" will increase efficiency. It is based on the assumption that not every worker is operating at 100% of their possible productivity because of fluctuating workloads, and by pooling larger groups you will increase the overall productivity level.

All good theories, and they will save money, but how much will it really save?

And, I really think we need to compare those potential savings to those that can be achieved through district consolidation.

Oakland County has 28 districts, 8 of which are approximately 5 square miles or less. 10 of them have less than 4500 students. The structure is absurd.

I have looked at this in great detail and believe consolidating down to 5 districts could save $20-30 million per year just in the elimination of duplicate executive management at the director level and above. This is based on the premise that smaller districts seem to have 2 executive administrators per thousand students, while larger districts have 1 per thousand.

As districts grow, they certainly need to add more "worker bees" and supervisors/managers, but they do not necessarily need to add more executives. I know there are limits on how much could be added to an executive's workload, but I also don't believe the executive functions or workload changes much by adding more students into the system.

Consolidating to five districts would likely eliminate 150-175 executive positions in Oakland County -- and yield the savings I mentioned above.

And this could be done without consolidating one single school, which seems to be the primary fear in consolidating.

But the purpose of this blog entry was not to necessarily to promote district consolidation, but was instead to point out Flanagan seems to unnecessarily equate the consolidation of districts with the consolidation of schools. Districts can be consolidated without merging schools.

I wholeheartedly agree with Flanagan's position that smaller high schools are better, and I would not support the idea of making more "big-box" high schools.

I also agree with his premise that schools are the fabric of a community. But I believe MOST people have an affinity to their school, and not necessarily their district. In fact, I would wonder how many people even know who their superintendent is, let alone know any of the administrative executives!

Consolidation of districts means the elimination of some of the redundant executive management, which is far removed from the classroom. It also means providing some of the executive insight and oversight that is lacking in smaller districts, such as an assessment director, or a director that is focused exclusively on primary or secondary instead of focusing on both.

So, as you listen to his commentary be sure to understand the difference between between DISTRICT consolidation and SCHOOL consolidation.


Anonymous said...

District Consolidation sounds like a viable solution, it seems it would also weed out the less effective administrators and leave the districts with competent and well qualified leaders. That should also apply to BOE members, a larger group of voters would determine who gets on the board, thereby ending up with again, the most effective candidates?

Anonymous said...

Who gets to decide which districts consolidate?

Why is MORE always better?

Anonymous said...

This is great thinking. I am sure there are details to work out and even a few tough questions to answer. However, the fundamental idea is solid.

Let's face it. This state is losing money and people. We need to reduce expenses. Minor cost cutting is fine but akin to arranging deck chairs on the Titanic.

Big ideas like this are needed. In fact, why not push it a little further. Consolidate first, then privatize all non-educational administrative functions.

Business success stories teach us that focusing on core competencies is essential. Outside finance, HR, IT services, transportation. Not just the service delivery but the management function, too.

Incent the companies to save money (or redirect money toward direct student/teacher benefit.) Given then 20% of all such savings. More creativity will emerge.