School district consolidation will be discussed at public meeting Monday

The superintendent of the local educational service district will present the possibilities and pitfalls of consolidating the islands' school districts Monday, noon, at Friday Harbor Presbyterian Church.

The meeting is open to the public and will constitute a special meeting of the San Juan Island School Board. Lopez and Orcas school officials are expected to participate.

Dr. Jerry Jenkins is the superintendent of the Northwest Educational Service District in Anacortes, one of nine educational service districts in the state that provides administrative and instructional support services to public school districts and all state-approved private schools. The districts, or ESDs, are funded primarily by services they provide, as well as investment earnings and grants.

The Northwest ESD saves schools money through cooperatives, centralized services and pooled resources.

The San Juan Island School District saved about $30,000 a year in business management costs when it contracted with the Northwest ESD for a business manager, Ben Thomas, who is also the Orcas School District's contract business manager, San Juan Superintendent Michael Soltman said.

Soltman's district is grappling with declining enrollment and shortfalls in state funding for voter-mandated cost-of-living increases for teachers. The community raised $550,000 to almost erase a $600,000 shortfall in the district's budget this year. He believes consolidation is worth exploring.

Jenkins "is going to tell us what the rules are and what the pitfalls associated with consolidation would be," Soltman said.

Consolidation of school districts is rare in Washington state.

Last year, the Vader School District in the Olympia area was merged with a larger school district, according to Jerry Jenkins of the Northwest Educational Service District in Anacortes.

Renewal of a Vader School District property tax levy received a majority of voter support, but not the then-required supermajority, and failed, rendering the district financially insolvent. It's subsequent consolidation with another school district was the first consolidation in Washington in 20 years.

Historically, schools in San Juan County had one superintendent; educational service districts originated as county superintendent offices.

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