The findings are in. Idaho Falls and Bonneville County school boards met Wednesday morning to hear whether or not consolidating districts could save money.
Many were surprised to hear that consolidation itself would actually cost millions of dollars. The districts are so efficient as is, the study found it’s probably more cost effective to stay separated.
Independent consulting firm Education Northwest started the study in March and based findings on financial and staffing data from the state, interviews with district personnel and focus groups with stakeholders.
In addition to one-time costs for consolidation, there would be an additional annual expense of at least $1.5 million, mostly to equalize salaries.
But there are other ways the districts can team up to cut costs.
“Joint purchasing agreements, thinking about combining special education services, transportation services, more technology? things that don’t affect students directly but can benefit from economy of scale,” Dr. Teri Akey of Education Northwest said.
Researchers with Education Northwest said they couldn’t find a single example of schools this size consolidating across the country. They said it’s more beneficial for smaller districts – about half the size of District 91 and 93.
The combination would create what administrators call a “super district”. It would be the third largest in the state behind Boise and Meridian. But it would also have implications for tax payers.
About two dozen patrons and parents came out Wednesday night to hear what was presented to the district school boards.
Many were equally surprised at the study’s findings, but think sharing some services is a good option.
“I think that’s got some possibilities,” said district 91 parent Amy Whittier. “I think there’s a lot of services they can bring together that might help both a lot better than the whole district being together.”
Whittier’s daughter Jodee, an Idaho Falls High School senior, said sports are a hot issue, but agreed combining some programs could be beneficial.
“If they found a way that everyone could still have what they wanted, it would be fine if we saved money and provide the same opportunities,” she said.