COMMENTARY: Consolidation of school districts is not where we should be focused

Consolidation discussion is a bad use of time. Focus on school performance.

With their public overtures towards consolidation, what are the superintendents of the two largest school districts in San Benito County saying? 

  • The Hollister (Elementary) and San Benito High Districts cannot say they are doing great jobs for the greater community today.
  • Creativity and focus at the school site is where we will get better educational outcomes.
  • Costs would most likely increase and tugs and pulls between elementary and high school priorities would dominate budget discussions.
  • Time would be better spent by all involved by going to school board meetings to ensure the focus of each school district is student achievement.

Looking only at Hollister (Elementary) School and San Benito High School Districts, test scores and graduation rates reflect that they are not standing out as being leaders in education.  For sure they are serving some, but to the larger population, not so well.  Recent test results reflect a large majority of students not mastering math and language arts. Many of the school campuses are tired looking and are absolutely old.

The thought that combining the two and having better outcomes just does not make sense.

The problems at our schools is not the necessarily the fault of administrators, teachers, or school board members.  However, in combination with the environment caused by our state legislature and Congress, it reflects the need for creativity and focus at the school site level to have the desired outcomes: great educations and environments.

A mega school district is more complex, becomes more expensive, and by its very nature, more difficult to manage. Typically, when an elementary school district unifies with a high school district, salary and benefits expenses increase because teachers and their unions do not want separate pay scales. High school teachers make more money than K-8 teachers. When a K-8 district merges with a high school district, the K-8 salaries and benefits are increased to the high school level, not the other way around. 

A larger, more complex organization, whether it be a school district, business, church, or volunteer organization, requires more sophisticated managers. Typically, managers of larger organizations earn more money than those involved with smaller ones. Again, not a sign that there would be a cost savings through consolidation.

We also need to consider that the culture, discipline, and personality of an elementary campus is very different than that of a high school. When it comes to allocation of resources, the community would not be well-served to have “high school” priorities be higher than those of the elementary schools or vice-versa. With a single school district, those are undoubtedly the battles that would be fought.

More importantly, there is a finite number of hours in a work week and school year. The administrators who spend time pondering consolidation are taking precious hours that could be spent training the poorest performing employees so that they become effective educators and motivating the others to continue to do well, spending time in the classrooms and confirming the curriculum being taught in each, being on campuses and making sure that they are clean and safe, and figuring out how to recruit teachers, which there is a shortage of. You know, educating.

In similar vein, all those members of the County Committee on School District Organization who will be holding meetings, doing research, and causing resources to be expended, not because the public has asked for a consolidation but because administrators of poorly-performing school districts asked them to. Those individuals would get much more bang for their hours and taxpayer money by going to school board meetings and scrutinizing the agendas for signs that the trustees and administration are focused on student achievement, and being efficient with the public’s and trustees time in doing so.

This is a difficult piece to write. I personally know the administrators involved and can see how having a difference of opinion can be perceived as being critical of their management or organizations. This is not the intent at all; I have the utmost respect for all educators in any capacity in San Benito County. The education systems here have served my family extremely well, for which I am very grateful.

Rob Bernosky

Rob Bernosky is a chief financial officer, Chairman of the San Benito County Republican Party, former Regional Vice Chair for the California Republican Party, former president of the governing board of the Hollister School District, and former Delegate to the Republican National Committee. He formerly served as a member and secretary of the Citizens' Oversight Committee for the Hollister School District. Rob is a former elected trustee of the North County Joint Union School District, and has served on numerous other boards, including the Heritage Foundation of San Benito County, a local water company, chairman of the San Benito County Republican Party, and was a member and president of the San Benito County Committee on School District Organization. Rob is married with 3 children, including 2 who are teachers in public schools and 1 in private industry.