The Idaho Legislature may not take any steps toward consolidating public schools during their session this year, according the Senate Education Committee Chairman Sen. John Goedde, R-Coeur d’Alene.
“There’s been some talk about consolidation of services, but we’re too late in this process to legislate anything involving consolidation,” Goedde said after a committee meeting Wednesday. There have been no major proposals for combining school districts or district service so far this session. Goedde said that means lawmakers likely won’t be at the forefront of consolidation efforts for the next school year. “It may come as a result of a reduction in funding to local districts. As funds go down, districts start looking at efficiencies. They may self-determine in some areas that there could be efficiencies gained by consolidation of services.”
Idaho schools face a funding reduction of up to $110 million, according to Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna. Luna’s press secretary, Melissa McGrath, said he won’t offer any proposals on consolidation for a few weeks. “That’s something we’re still discussing but we’re going to wait until they set the public schools budget,” she told IdahoReporter.com. The schools budget is scheduled to be set on March 1. Lawmakers are hoping to end their session in Boise by the end of March, so any ideas for consolidation would need to be passed next month.
Idaho has 115 school districts and 49 of them serve fewer than 500 students. Consolidating those districts or district services has been discussed as a way to reduce state spending on schools. Education takes us more than half of the Idaho’s general fund budget. A report by the Legislature’s Office of Performance Evaluations (OPE) from 2009 said schools could see savings in consolidating services, including professional development, student transportation, and purchasing supplies. OPE Senior Performance Evaluator Jared Tatro said those savings won’t reduce state spending that much. “While they can account for some savings, it is just really not enough,” he said. Consolidating those services among districts could save 10 percent on each budget line, he said, but wouldn’t affect funding for teachers, administrators, and other schools staff, which makes up 84 percent of the public schools budget.
Goedde said his committee supports further investigation from the OPE on consolidating school services, though it remains to be seen if the OPE will conduct those investigations and what areas of spending it would cover.