Recently, Erie County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz agitated for change; sparking debate over the always controversial idea of school district consolidation.
Now he has a framework. Poloncarz held a news conference to release his study examining school district expenses and the potential for consolidation. The public should consider the merits, and then push for mergers in their own school districts.
Poloncarz insists his administration is not recommending any specific merger. Instead, his office has produced “hypotheticals” for potential savings after consolidating Cheektowaga Central, Maryvale, Sloan, Cleveland Hill and Depew districts into one district. Eden and North Collins would be another and Akron would be merged into a third.
The county executive understands that such radical change, even though needed, is bound to be met with resistance. It may be why he suggested holding three public forums throughout the county on the reports.
Poloncarz also plans to convene a shared services panel with school districts in the summer to discuss possible cost-saving measures. He added there should be “greater budget transparency” from school districts, a notion that aggravated one or two school officials. And he suggested changes the state law governing mergers to make consolidation easier.
From small to medium to large, there are potential savings in consolidating, shrinking administrative staffs and sharing services. Small districts spend more on administration per pupil, according to Poloncarz. Consolidation does not mean capitulation. Schools would remain open. The concept does not envision firing teachers and principals. Instead, senior management ranks would be reduced.
The county executive has every right, if not a mandate, to take a look at schools. He may not have control over the managing of the educational institution. Detractors might make note of that fact. But, as he said, Erie County contributes sales tax money to every school district. If property owners fail to pay taxes, the county makes up the difference to school districts. More than half of all taxes levied in the county goes to school districts.
Poloncarz is doing his due diligence in pointing out the potential savings in consolidation, adding his frustration that New York has not mandated school districts to participate in shared-services cost-saving initiatives.
The schools consolidation report starts the conversation. Public pressure should move it along.