point/counterpoint: shared services or consolidating – the clarion-ledger
The Clarion-Ledger invited state Sen. Gray Tollison, chairman of the Senate Education Committee, R-Oxford, and state Rep. Ed Blackmon, D-Canton, to provide their thoughts on this week’s Point/Counterpoint question.
This is not something new to the Legislature. There were bills introduced in the 2012 session, and Gov. Barbour actually proposed using shared services in schools. I think it is a matter of implementation where different processes work better for different areas in the state. The Legislature, we’ve been successful in eliminating eight school districts across the state by looking at those districts with low tax bases, low student populations and low performances. And the Legislature will continue to look at those and also look as shared services among other school districts.
From my standpoint, this is an issue about governance at the local level. Shared services can be beneficial to local districts, and it’s up to elected officials to find these services the districts can mutually benefit from, looking at an administrative point of operations, facilities and operations. Those kinds of things can be evaluated to see if they are beneficial for all and then come to an arrangement. But I think that it should be decided only on the local level. If that happens, I’m certainly for shared services.
The goal is to eliminate administrative costs and the duplication of services so that the money can be put into the classrooms. In this state, we have limited resources so we need to be smart with the money we have available for education. In some cases, administrative consolidation works because the school district has a very small tax base. It just makes sense if it’s next to another district in the county with a higher tax base, to consolidate. The goal is to be able to put more resources in the classroom by being as efficient as possible on administrative level.
It would be very different for the state to start dictating what will be shared because that then takes you into the realm of consolidation which is a major concern across districts in the state, particularly the one I represent. When the state looks at that overall picture, it tends to do so from an assets standpoint with a total disregard of the culture of those communities and development of those districts. I don’t think it’s workable with the state running it. The leaders on the local level are the best ones to be able to determine what will best serve a community.
I think NASA is model on the federal government level with using shared services. That agency is taking the money they have and being efficient. Certainly if a federal agency can do that, it can be done on the state level. It’s about having cooperation and getting people to embrace it. Washington County has four different school districts. I don’t know if they need four, but if they do, why don’t they use shared services for textbooks or transportation. In some places facing declines in student population and tax base, it makes sense to have a larger tax base to support the schools. This is about what works best for each community. It needs to be addressed, and the Legislature can encourage one of those two options and reduce administrative costs.
From a historical standpoint, look at the occasions when the issue of consolidating our historically black colleges and universities with the majority white schools were discussed by the Legislature. You can talk about consolidating services and they sound very good, but without considering the impact of those decisions, ones not being made on the local level, then you run into major drawback from the local community, to such an extent that the lawmakers ran away from that proposal. These are communities whose interests we are sworn to look after and protect. One program where I may think sharing services and saving money may be what’s best could be the program many in the community believe is vital and remain as it is. To not take that into account is a problem.