Guest Opinion - School district consolidation needed

By Guest Opinion - Casey Littleton March 10, 2009 07:57 am


Our country and our county are facing difficult times and we must work together as a community to look at the long-term strategic needs and goals while not emotionally reacting to short-term immediate gratifications. 

As we look outside the box for viable solutions to meet our needs, one solution stands very clearly in the forefront: consolidation of our school districts. For years Congress and our state Legislature have decreased funding for education, while raising the bar for standards and requirements. Expectations have been raised, but the funding does not support the expected results.

There is a simple answer to help Tuolumne County, its citizens and our children’s future: consolidate our school districts. These words have been controversial over the years and individuals have been elected and appointed to office for their stance against consolidation. However, now is time to sit down and have a serious talk about our options.

Look at the facts: Tuolumne County has 12 school districts, 10 superintendents, approximately 12 chief business officials (CBOs), nearly three dozen district staff members and over 50 trustees. I am certain I am not alone in thinking this is more than enough for a county with 57,000 residents. Keep in mind these numbers are not reflective of the staff or trustees of the county’s board of education.

Simple math demonstrates that nearly $1 million could be saved by consolidating these positions and leveraging a larger districts’ buying and negotiating power for contracts. With fewer school districts to manage, Tuolumne County wins by reducing the required staff at its superintendent of schools office.

My own recommendation is to accomplish this through retirement and non-replacement or reassignment of jobs. 

Over the years our community has discussed consolidation. In conversations with friends and neighbors, I understand the concerns and feelings that a consolidated district would take away control from the local site and ruin the curriculum and feel of a small school.

My belief is that the opposite will occur. I believe we will see an even stronger sense of school pride, more involvement by parent organizations and staff while handing over the administrative headaches to the district. To be clear, let’s not forget the real prize of consolidation — financial stability for our schools.

We are blessed to have several amazing superintendents, CBOs and key staff members now working and residing in our county that have experience running larger multi-site and school districts. Their experience would allow them to step into the job of a consolidated district today.

State law allows districts to merge should their boards approve such an action. I am calling on the superintendent of schools to hold an exploratory meeting with all the districts to discuss and review our options. I would also ask the Tuolumne County Grand Jury to review these actions and, while not easy to implement, confirm they are in the best interests of all involved.

I am not looking at this issue as an armchair quarterback or the sidelines. I proudly serve as a trustee for the Sonora Elementary School District. My perspective is that of an elected official looking out for the welfare of the school I represent, my children and my community.

(A four-year Sonora resident, Casey Littleton was elected to the Sonora Elementary School Board in 2007. He and his wife, Lori, have two sons — a kindergartener and a second-grader — at the school. He is the business development manager for Networkfleet, a San Diego-based firm which, via computers, monitors vehicles in large corporate fleets).