Financial benefits of a unified school district

COO outlines efficiencies of consolidation

EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is part of a series of monthly articles submitted by the Champlain Valley School District Board of Directors.

School district consolidation continues to offer impressive results. We’re encouraged by the early progress and cooperation between towns. We see the long-term positive impact this partnership will have for our students.

This month’s article offers a Q&A with Champlain Valley School District Chief Operating Officer Jeanne Jensen about the financial implications of the consolidation.

Now that CVSD is a consolidated district, what has changed and what has remained the same?

JENSEN: We maintain our dedication to doing what is best for kids while being responsive to the economic needs of the community. The major change is our organizational flexibility. We now have a variety options that we can take to improve fiscal responsibility and lower overall operating costs.

What are examples of actions that have lowered CVSD’s operating costs?

JENSEN: With consolidation, we spread risk across one large enterprise, thereby lowering overall cost. Our schools pool resources for services like software licensing fees, operations and maintenance staffing, financial audits and board expenses. We cut down on legal expenses by reducing the legal contingency for each school. In the past, the seven school boards budgeted for just-in-case legal costs. Today, CVSD holds that risk, at a lower cost.

What financial opportunities do you see on the horizon?

JENSEN: The most exciting changes will come from targeted conversations between administrators to compare program costs and program outcomes. These discussions are no longer a theoretical exercise, but an urgent and practical deep dive involving educational equity, innovation and best practice. I believe we will see real benefits in both cost and outcomes for students over the next few years.

How do you see the consolidation of financial operations directly benefiting our students?

JENSEN: Principals now spend less time on financial and operational activities and more time on educational leadership. Most principals don’t go into education to make sure the roof doesn’t leak or that the budget balances. Having principals take an advisory role in these areas frees up their time and talents to focus on improving educational outcomes for students.

What impact has consolidation had on the budgeting process?

JENSEN: Consolidation enables the board and the superintendent to be more strategic in programmatic funding and projections. As separate districts, each school board was limited in what it could offer students by personnel inconsistencies and student counts. For example, if a teacher retired and was replaced with someone lower on the pay scale, a board could choose to reinvest the difference in a program or service. Across a wider system, we can predict staffing changes and student numbers over multiple years and strategically plan to reach the board’s programming goals. This forecasting helps maintain consistency in our programs.