Early estimate puts district consolidation costs in millions
By Josh O’Gorman
Vermont Press Bureau | March 19,2014
MONTPELIER — Realignment of the state’s school districts could cost more than $11 million in salary adjustments and administrative expenses.
The House Education Committee took testimony Tuesday from William Talbott, chief financial officer for the Agency of Education, who offered some very preliminary estimates for expenses surrounding a proposal in the committee to create a series of large school districts across the state.
The proposal calls for the elimination of supervisory unions and the creation of multischool districts, each with a single governing board and a single budget.
While offering a caveat that the figures are very much “back of the envelope” — meaning not at all final — Talbott estimated the change could cost the districts upward of $11.4 million.
During a meeting last week, Talbott met financial managers from supervisory unions across the state and asked them to estimate how much district realignment would cost. At the high end, the average estimate came in at $50,000 for each supervisory union.
Across 40 supervisory unions, that cost comes to $2 million.
These expected expenses include the legal expenses of a merger, costs surrounding the blending of information technology, and final audits as the supervisory unions close their books forever.
That $2 million pales in comparison to potential costs as employees from different school districts all come to work for a single employer with a single salary schedule.
“Not all salary schedules are the same,” Talbott said, noting that salaries can vary from one region to another and between contiguous school districts. “It’s not a huge spread, but it’s something to take into account.”
Talbott estimated salary alignment could result in pay increases for about 4,700 school staff, which can include everyone from teachers to custodians. For an annual salary increase of $1,000 per person, the resulting cost would be approximately $4.7 million. At $2,000 a person, the cost would be more than $9.4 million. The estimates do not take into account the fact that, under the governance proposal, there is an expectation that there will be fewer administrators, meaning fewer salaries to pay.
“We anticipate that, sooner or later, there will be savings, but we don’t know what that will be yet,” Talbott said.
Also unknown is how much the proposal might cost for the Agency of Education, which, under the draft bill, would be charged with the task of offering guidance to districts as they look to consolidate. Committee members asked Talbott to return with estimates of how the draft bill would affect the agency.
While some might be looking to the draft bill as a response to rising education costs — especially in light of the defeat of 35 school budgets at town meetings earlier this month — the expressed intent of the bill is not to reduce costs but to increase the access students have to education opportunities, regardless of the size of the school.