Published: Friday, March 30, 2007
Chamber to try persuasion for schools consolidation
The chamber would like to see one school district per county.
By DON SHILLING
AND DAVID SKOLNICK
The push to consolidate administration of Mahoning Valley school districts will begin in a friendly fashion but may not end that way.
The Regional Chamber will invite area school superintendents and board members to meet in small groups to discuss consolidation, said Tom Humphries, chamber president.
An effort to change state law to force the merger of school administration would come only if persuasion doesn't work, he said.
State legislators are divided on the chamber's proposal. Some think it's too drastic, while others say it's worth studying.
Humphries said, however, that he's hopeful that local school officials will agree that too much money is being spent on school administration.
What's behind this
Enrollments have fallen in the region since the 1970s, but the number of school districts is about the same. His goal is to create one central administration office in each of Mahoning, Trumbull and Columbiana counties.
Each large district would spend less by having just one superintendent and fewer other administrators, he said.
The plan, however, calls for school districts to retain their own identity, with their own school boards and sports teams.
Humphries said that one superintendent per county is his best-case scenario. School officials may be able to present good reasons for other types of consolidation, he said.
Superintendents, for example, may suggest reducing administration to three central offices per county.
Humphries does have a backup plan if school officials don't cooperate, however.
He plans to ask state legislators to change state law so that it would provide limited funding for administrators. Funding limits would be set so that districts would have to consolidate unless they wanted to pass local taxes to raise more money.
The plan would cover the entire state and would be similar to a law passed in West Virginia.
Humphries hopes to use money saved from consolidations to help fund a proposal to provide free college or vocational training to every high school graduate in the Mahoning Valley.
He also is exploring a tax levy in November 2008 to fund the program.
What lawmakers say
State Rep. Kenneth A. Carano of Austintown, D-59th and the ranking Democrat on the House Education Committee, said the General Assembly is not "prepared to make such a drastic change in education."
Though he supports regionalization and consolidation, Carano said the chamber's plan is too much, too fast.
"I'm not sure we're ready for one superintendent for each county," Carano said. "...It's a great start and it will create discussion on education and consolidation."
State Sen. John Boccieri of New Middletown, D-33rd, agreed with Carano saying the state Legislature has no interest in making such a significant change to the education process.
"It's good to have the discussion," he said. "Conceptually they make it sound like it will save money, but they need to show it."
State Rep. Robert F. Hagan of Youngstown, D-60th, hailed the chamber proposal as an excellent idea.
"Any time you can consolidate and regionalize that's good," he said.
Hagan said the Gov. Ted Strickland administration and the state Legislature is looking to save money and be more efficient. If the chamber can prove this plan would do that, Hagan said state officials would listen.
State Rep. Sandra Stabile Harwood of Niles, D-65th, has thought about consolidating districts for about a year. She wants the state to commission a study to determine its feasibility.
"We owe it to the taxpayers to take a look at it," she said. "We need to look at the whole [education] system and see if we're using the money in the most effective way."