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SPOTLIGHT
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Little efficiencies equal big savings

Published on -10/16/2012, 10:15 AM

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Things get very simple and very complicated when state government officials use what some are now calling the "C" word. That C, of course, stands for consolidation of school districts.

School districts, essentially governments all to themselves with elected board members, are each little islands inside the state financed by state and local tax dollars.

Each is fiercely proud of its schools, its sports teams, its debaters and ... well you get the idea.

But next legislative session, we're likely to see different versions of the "C" word, some worth a capital letter, some that are just as worthy of a lower-case "c."

For Gov. Sam Brownback, the C word means closing schools, taking the heart out of many small towns in Kansas. He's from a small town, Parker, and is protective of those small schools.

But for some looking at how to save money on schools, there are steps a lot smaller than tearing down a schoolhouse or drowning a high school mascot that are going to get a look next session.

Kansans are going to get a look at choices that likely shrinking state aid and the threat of higher property taxes are going to trigger.

Some might be unnoticeable. As long as your football team is doing well, do you care where the district buys its trash bags or whether the payroll checks are sent out from the local school district administration building or maybe one statewide central bookkeeping office?

Or is that just a step to dissolving local control of schools and leaving the locally elected boards to just pass judgment on the length of cheerleaders' skirts?

Does it matter whether your school board joins up with a statewide purchasing contract to buy paper -- maybe not buying it from a local supplier -- if it saves money?

Those are among the little things that don't show up in the classroom, and probably will be in small type in the local newspaper if they are reported, that save a dollar here or a thousand dollars there and eventually add up.

But it's the difference between a locally owned cafe and a franchise fast-food outlet owned by a local guy. It's a little different feel and legislators next session are going to have to consider whether it's worth the political risk to support.

Does it sound a little like consolidation can be done at a level that doesn't really impact local control decisions -- except when they cost tax dollars or turn up in someone's power point charts comparing costs for this or that among the state's school districts?

Or, is local control simply local control and once basics are met, it's up to the local school board members and their constituents to decide just how efficient or locally sourced are the components of the school district's spending.

That C word has lots of different levels, some worth a capital letter, some just fine lower-case -- depending, of course, on the people who vote for school board members.

Syndicated by Hawver News Co. of Topeka, Martin Hawver is publisher of Hawver's Capitol Report. To learn more about this nonpartisan statewide political news service, visit www.hawvernews.com.

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