Education Service Districts Hold the Key to a Consolidation Compromise

Read the full reportA better approach is needed

Despite months of work, the legislature appears little closer to finding a broadly acceptable approach to generating savings through K-12 consolidation and collaboration than it did when Governor Baldacci first presented his “Local Schools –Regional Support” plan in January. Even today, many legislators representing the state’s rural and remote areas have made it clear that they will vote against any budget bill that removes the management of local schools from local hands through the creation of large school districts with limited representation for the state’s small communities.

The good news is that experience elsewhere in the nation, and here in Maine, proves that local control can be preserved and budget savings generated though the use of collaborative bodies such as Educational Service Districts (ESDs). The Maine Heritage Policy Center outlined such a proposal in January, one that would result in efficiencies and substantial budget savings while preserving local school districts, a feature absent in the other existing plans despite the widely expressed desire among Maine people to retain a voice in the management of their local schools.

Combined with an element or two from the work of the Legislature’s Education committee and the Appropriations consolidation subcommittee, the ESD approach can be the consolidation compromise the legislature is looking for.

Generating real budget savings

The Maine Heritage Policy Center’s report on Education Service Districts outlined the dramatic savings these collaborative bodies are generating across the nation. How much can we save here? The following analysis uses FY 2006 state and local education spending data in five areas where significant savings have been generated using ESDs in other states: school and school district administration, transportation, operations and maintenance, and student instruction. To reach the $36 million savings goal, the analysis assumes a conservative 5% savings resulting from shared services in each of the first four budget areas, and an even more conservative 3% savings in student instruction, the largest of the five areas of spending. The state’s 55% share of the savings is the amount made available for the budget.