PAWTUCKET — Based on information he has gleaned from recent seminars, Pawtucket School Committeeman David Coughlin has written a letter to the Central Falls receiver asking if a consolidation of School Department services should be explored between Pawtucket and Central Falls.
Coughlin sent the letter on Sept. 8 to Robert Flanders, the retired Supreme Court Justice who is acting as receiver for the financially troubled city of Central Falls. He stressed that the correspondence had been solely from him and was penned on his own professional letterhead, and did not represent the School Committee or School Department. However, he wrote that if Flanders thought the consolidation concept was worth exploring, he would bring it to the attention of the School Committee for discussion.
Coughlin referenced a meeting he had attended in August with the Rhode Island Association of School Committees in which one of the ideas that was discussed centered around larger school districts helping smaller school districts by sharing services. It was suggested that many operational services (those that do not have to do with governing) could be done on a fee basis in order to achieve efficiencies and cost savings. He said the meeting was attended by Rhode Island Commissioner of Education Deborah Gist and RIASC Executive Director Tim Duffy.
Coughlin said that at Duffy's invitation, he had also attended a session at Bryant University regarding the Cloud computer program and its potential as a shared Information Technology (IT) service.
He told Flanders that based on these two meetings, “It was not difficult to expand this concept and start thinking in terms of school districts sharing resources/services across the board.”
The School Committeeman noted that the Central Falls School District is struggling to keep its budget out of deficit as well as the struggles that the Pawtucket School District has had in balancing its budget for the current fiscal year as well as the financial challenges it faces in fiscal year 2013.
As such, he wrote, “It is submitted that some model for consolidation of educational service delivery across school districts may soon be coming down the pike.”
Coughlin wrote that while local community governance such as local School Committees remain the preferred model, it's reasonable to think that the delivery of individual community-based services “are not necessarily efficient, optimal or cost effective” as a model, and that improvements could be found in a shared services model. He added that it would be better for both Pawtucket and Central Falls to take a leadership role in a shared services delivery model “than to get dragged along in some other entity's wake.”
To this end, Coughlin suggested to Flanders that both the Pawtucket and Central Falls School Districts should “brainstorm, explore and possibly commission a study” of the Pawtucket School District offering, on a fee-for-service basis, to the Central Falls School District everything in the way of operational services.
“Thinking out of the box,” wrote Coughlin, “both School Districts could consider the feasibility and cost effectiveness of Pawtucket providing all operational management, educational management and other support services (i.e. superintendent, deputy superintendent, department directors, IT, finance, accounting, social workers, nurses, guidance counselors, legal, etc.) to Central Falls.”
Coughlin added, “It is further submitted that when one looks around a state as small as Rhode Island one has to wonder if Rhode Island really needs 35 or so highly compensated superintendents, deputy superintendents, SPED directors, IT directors, business/finance managers, central office staffs, etc., etc., etc. It is possible that across the board consolidation in these areas could reduce the overall cost of K-12 education in RI.”
Coughlin told The Times that if he receives a favorable response from Flanders, he will ask to have the matter placed on an upcoming School Committee agenda to “determine what, if any action it may wish to take.”