County School District Consolidation

The guest speaker at the Association’s July 16, 2009 Board luncheon meeting was  Dr. Carl Wong, Superintendent, Sonoma County Office of Education.  Dr. Wong has been in this elective office for 6 years.  His duties include helping the 40 school Districts in meeting legal mandates and operate cost effectively by providing financial oversight to the $680 million education budget , as well as providing specialized educational programs.   Although the K-12 school population in the County has decreased yearly over the past five years, Dr. Wong claims that student achievement has outpaced both state and national SAT scores.  Dr. Wong’s primary topic at today’s meeting was District re-organization.  Dr. Wong contends there are three ways school districts can achieve re-organization to provide a better educational experience for students and possibly lower costs.  These are increased use of Charter Schools, Shared Services and Consolidation of some districts.  There are currently 33 Charter Schools out of a total of over 180 public schools in the County.  Charter Schools can provide  the District with flexibility with labor contracts, provide a choice for parents and  a specialized   learning experience for students.  Dr. Wong indicated that currently many school districts are sharing services to reduce costs.  Examples include; transportation, cafeteria, special education, business services, purchasing and nursing to mention a few.  The most controversial issue centers around consolidation of school districts.  State education codes establish the process for school district re-organization.   It is a long drawn out process that could take from 2 to 4 years.   Dr. Wong thinks there is no “traction” for a countywide feasibility study to determine the pros and cons of consolidation. Although there may be benefits for consolidating all or some of the 40 school districts and 200 Board of Trustee members, such as fiscal and programmatic effectiveness and economies of scale. There are also detriments such as labor issues, loss of local control and taxing issues.   There maybe interest in looking at consolidation on a regional basis.  For example, if the seven school districts in and around Santa Rosa  got together for a feasibility study it might work.  The current problem is lack of funding for such a study and local opposition. 

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