Consolidation: Schools should get down to business

Union Democrat Editorial Board

School boards and administrators are fond of comparing their operations to the business world's.

In fact, a well-worn argument equating school district superintendents to corporate CEOs has been applied for years to justify jaw-dropping six-figure salaries, outsized pensions, and a bevy of fringe benefits.

This could make a little sense in very large districts - with thousands of employees and tens of thousands of kids. But in a small county like Tuolumne?

No, the CEO arguments combined with parochial interests (spun as a demand for "local control") has created a decadent and wasteful "business" climate more closely resembling a bloated GM or Tyco of a decade ago than, say, an innovating Apple or Amazon.

Tuolumne County has 11 districts. Eight of these consist of just one school.

Too, each of these districts has its own school board, its own legal counsel, its own offices and, more or less, its own administration (eight districts share four superintendents; three have their own; and in one district the superintendent also serves as a principal).

All this overhead is costly. Just consider that the highest paid superintendent in the county, retiring Summerville High/Twain Harte Superintendent John Keiter, makes a base salary of $207,000, or about $41,000 more than the $165,288 California Gov. Jerry Brown was paid last year. Columbia/Belleview Superintendent John Pendley - for overseeing two districts of just 710 kids combined - makes $167,000.

All this in a county with a mostly shrinking school-student population; in an age where budget woes and teacher layoff notices are an annual event; and in an era when local school districts can barely muster enough candidates to hold an election for open board seats.

No, Tuolumne County's education structure, by almost any measure, is bloated and top heavy.

Cutting a few of these highly paid administrative positions and formally merging districts - as is being discussed at Summerville and Sonora High schools -is the most logical course of action.

This is not to say seven of our superintendents are not hard working and well-qualified (Pendley's not on this list for reasons we've spelled out in past editorials).

But to borrow on old adage from the real business world: Cutting waste is just business, not personal.

The Union Democrat
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