Other Voices: Taking a closer look at school district organization
On Feb. 18 the Nevada County Superintendent of Schools office hosted a workshop on school district organization presented by the school fiscal services division of the California Department of Education. The purpose of the workshop was to provide an opportunity to educate school board members, administrators, the county committee on school district organization and interested members of the public on matters related to the organization of school districts.
Often in Nevada County, and especially during difficult budget times, the question is asked as to why we have 10 school districts in a county our size. Many wonder if this is the most efficient and effective model for education in our county. We should all become more educated about the laws and issues involved in order to understand and to make decisions or to support and promote change.
In California, school district organization issues are governed by education code. Consolidation is a form of school district organization that includes combining two or more elementary districts or combining one or more elementary districts with a high school district to form a unified school district. The process to consolidate school districts is complicated and lengthy.
If either 25 percent of the voters in all districts affected, or the majority of the members of each school district governing board approve a petition, the county committee on school district organization begins the process of holding public hearings to make a determination on approving the petition.
If there is not agreement from all parties or there is an appeal, the petition must go to the state board to consider. Currently, the state board of education is taking three to four years to complete the process when a petition is sent to them.
If all parties are in agreement and there is no appeal, the county superintendent of schools calls an election. For these reasons, it is critical that there is education and buy-in from all the involved parties in order to make the timelines reasonable.
Partly because of the complicated nature of the process, there have only been six school district consolidations in California in the last five years.
There are many factors to take into account when considering consolidation. First of all, the consolidation should result in reduced costs and/or increased revenue to the “new” school district. Even though it seems obvious to many that this would occur, and sometimes it does, it is not always the case for a variety of complicated funding reasons.
It is important that a comprehensive study be undertaken in order to be assured that the consolidation would result in fiscal improvement.
Another factor to take into account is the educational benefit to the students. Families with students attending schools in Nevada County value the education their children receive, and many move here from suburban or urban areas for the schools, believing that small, intimate schools and districts will provide better educational opportunities.
There are many who strongly believe that local control provides a more effective educational environment, but it is still important to consider the educational opportunities that might be available for students in a larger environment as a component of any decision or discussion.
Our task is to balance fiscal efficiency with a high quality educational environment that continues to attract families to our area.
One of the things that school districts in Nevada County have done and continue to do is find ways to share services and resources. Examples include shared transportation services, shared food services, staff shared across districts and two districts that share a superintendent, district office and business manager.
Nevada County school districts continue to explore additional ways to share resources and services during the current budget planning process.
The Nevada County Superintendent of Schools office will continue to facilitate the education process by providing opportunities for school board members and the public to learn more about the issues surrounding school district consolidation and unification.
We are currently working with the Nevada County School Boards Association to schedule a follow-up session to the workshop presented in February to provide the local boards more opportunity for facilitated discussions.
Holly Hermansen is the Nevada County superintendent of schools.
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