Utah's rural school districts prefer cooperation to consolidation.
Superintendents of six districts told the Legislative Education Interim Committee Wednesday that they are developing many programs that reduce costs and increase efficiency.The districts have been spurred by legislative rumblings about forced consolidation of districts to eliminate administrative costs and overlaps in expenses.
District leaders Wednesday gave the committee long lists of things they are doing to address the problems but few figures to support those savings. The committee asked for more details on the financial effects of the cooperative efforts.
"We believe we have put in place something that works as well or better (than consolidation)," said Dr. Brent Rock of Sevier District. The Central Utah Education System involves seven districts in cooperative programs that are saving considerable money, he said.
Studies are being conducted to see if consolidation of transportation, building maintenance and other areas of school expense are feasible, he said. Some crossing of district lines is already occurring in areas where one district can better serve isolated students in another district.
The districts are cooperating in purchasing, combining their buying power for better prices, sharing coordinators for such programs as vocational education and cooperating on inservice and training projects. They are looking at ways to jointly use technology to reach rural schools and enhance academic programs.
Dr. Richard Kendell of Davis District said his district is looking at the potential effects of consolidating with Salt Lake County districts. Such a report is to be ready by mid-September, he said.
Meanwhile, the district has launched a warehousing project that involves several districts. The district is storing hundreds of items - from taco shells to computer terminals - in a large warehouse, and allows other districts to purchase items for the reduced cost possible through volume buying. The program saves those districts 7 to 13 percent on purchases, Kendell said. Five districts now are involved in the computer-linked system, with a sixth apparently ready now and others expected to join next year.
Dr. Kenneth M. Topham of Millard School District said distance and small student numbers prohibit effective consolidation in some districts. The costs of traveling to administer very large districts would offset any savings, he said. His district also is involved in cooperative programs similar to those described in central Utah.
"We've not been dilatory in trying to achieve more efficient systems," he told legislators. His district has closed 50 percent of its small schools over the past decade or so.
The sentiments were echoed by superintendents in Uintah, Emery and Box Elder districts.
Superintendent Darrell K. White of Box Elder said his district is exploring several possibilities of sharing services with the county to generate cost savings for both government entities. "It's the most exciting effort I've been involved in in 11 years as superintendent," he said.