Districts discuss benefits of consolidating services, districts

San Juan, Orcas and Lopez school district officials met Nov. 3 to discuss the benefits of consolidating services and school districts.

The forum, in Friday Harbor Presbyterian Church, was facilitated by Dr. Jerry Jenkins, superintendent of the Northwest Educational Service District 189.

The San Juan Island School District is projecting a $717,000 budget shortfall next year. The deficit is expected to increase in future years due to declining enrollment.

Consolidation could come in the form of combining two or more school districts to form a new school district, or sharing of services such as business administration, staff, programs and development training.

If two or more districts created a new school district, all debts would be consolidated and shared.

San Juan Island School Board Chairman Boyd Pratt discussed combining services with other districts. Collaboration of services to be considered include special education, technology and vocational programs.

The San Juan Island School District saves about $30,000 a year in business management costs through its contract with Northwest ESD. Ben Thomas is business manager for the San Juan and Orcas school districts.

The Northwest Education Service District, or ESD, is 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. ESDs are funded primary by services they provide, as well as investment earnings and grants.

The Northwest ESD saves schools money through cooperative, centralized services and pooled resources. Jenkins outlined the rules, guidelines and procedures required for consolidating districts.

Consolidation of school districts is rare in Washington state. Historically, schools in San Juan County had one superintendent; educational service districts originated as county superintendent offices.

There are two ways a consolidation measure can be proposed to the Northwest Educational Service District. Ten percent of registered voters in a district or area contiguous with an adjacent district can sign the petition without the district’s board vote of approval. Or 10 registered voters in a district could present a petition to be approved by the school board. The measure would then be placed on the ballot for voter approval. Consolidation must be approved by majority of voters in both districts.

According to Jenkins, economics is the only reason San Juan's school districts should consider consolidation.

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