August 26, 2010

Regionalization? You May Want to Consider Who is Standing With You

Monique Chartier

As Andrew highlighted in his signature coverage of the Rhode Island Republican Assembly Endorsement Convention, the campaign platform of Republican gubernatorial candidate Victor Moffitt includes regionalization.

Audience Question: Unions and union contracts are out of control. What can we do to give more autonomy to the communities?

Answer: "I'm actually going to say that I think the problem is the opposite of that. As most of you know, I've been talking about regionalization and consolidation services since 1998....How good would Rhode Island be if we could replace 36 teacher contracts with 4? If we could replace 80 fire contracts with 5? Do you think that would be a little improvement for the state of Rhode Island?"

But OSPRI outlines the pitfalls; inter alia,

When comparing fully regionalized districts to similar size town districts we find that regionalized districts have the highest per pupil costs. One example is the Chariho Regional School District which was put together from three towns to make a school district whose student body is the same size as neighboring Westerly. But, the supposed economies of scale are nowhere on display in Chariho where administration costs per pupil are $825, forty percent more than the $589 spent in Westerly. Indeed, when it comes to administration costs, the supposed venue for obvious savings, they are well above the median in ALL the regionalized districts.

More alarming (... or not, depending upon your perspective), in yesterday's Providence Journal, Linda Borg reports on two other individuals who support regionalization.

The leaders of the state’s two teachers’ unions said that they would not be opposed to consolidating Rhode Island’s 36 school districts into one big district.

Although they cautioned that they were speaking as private citizens, Marcia Reback, president of the Rhode Island Federation of Teachers, and Robert A. Walsh Jr., executive director of the National Education Association, Rhode Island, offered the most radical suggestions about how to fix public education. The two made their remarks at a morning-long forum in Smithfield sponsored by the Rhode Island Public Expenditure Council.

Non-special interest supporters of regionalization like Mr. Moffitt (not to pick on him; he is not the only person to propose regionalization as a way to control costs but is one of the higher profile people to do so recently) presume that the hands into which thirty six contracts would be consolidated will act/negotiate/execute in the fiscal best interest of the taxpayer. Clearly, special interest advocates have determined that, on the contrary, it is they who would benefit from such an arrangement. Especially as it is the paid professionals representing that special interest who have reached this conclusion, I'm inclined to defer to their judgement

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Regionals in Rhode Island do cost more. Why? Becasue the state gives them bonus money to be regionalized! Duh...

Naturally, they will spend more. WIth the formula gradually eliminating that bonus money, the differences should eventually disappear.

I still say that the administration could be centralized with educational decisions still made at the local level.

Administration is where you can get the most benefit from centralization.

Posted by: John at August 26, 2010 11:12 AM

One of the problems of Chariho is it geographic size and transportation costs. Another is unlike single town school districts local town councils DO NOT EVEN HAVE THE POWER TO CONTROL THE BOTTOM LINE OF SCHOOL BUDGETS. The Chariho School Committee is NOT accountable to the town councils for their budgets and can adopt an amount local council members may or may not agree with.
Did any of you see my letter in The Providence Journal, Monday, August 2, 2010?
Don't be too hard on Vic Moffitt. He is bringing thought to the public debate while others are not doing it!
What we need to realize and appreciate is that not every school district or munipality is the same.
What needs to be known is the three Chariho towns are different in important fiscal ways which easily is the biggest problem. Richmond has the highest median income, Charlestown the largest tax base larger than the other two towns combined, and Hopkinton is in the middle, closer to Richmond in assessable base but closer to Charlestown in median household income.
Charlestown has the lowest percentage amount of its local taxes going to education while Richmond may be still the highest in the state in that regard,
and Hopkinton closer to Richmond. In addition, since Charlestown is coastal community a lot of their property taxpayers it would clearly appear that a higher precentage of their property taxpayers cannot vote there as their permanent address is outside that town.
Charlestown has one of the lowest property tax rates in Rhode island.
I believe the facts above are still true.
If we debate regionalization how we set it up helps its success or failure and its positives and negatives.
Scott Bill Hirst
Republican Candidate For Town Council-Hopkinton
Member, Hopkinton Town Council, 1996-2004

Posted by: Scott Bill Hirst at August 26, 2010 4:43 PM