Brandy Centolanza  Schools to undergo efficiency study 
The Virginia Gazette, July 28 2004,0,227342.story?coll=va-news

JAMES CITY—Just how well does WJC spend tax dollars” The question is timely, given the third high school referendum this fall.

School officials have agreed to undergo a voluntary efficiency review by the state. It will start this fall but won’t be done in time for the referendum. Insiders nonetheless view the study as a good-faith effort to promote the credibility of the third high. Gov. Mark Warner launched a pilot study last year as part of his “Education for a Lifetime” platform. He offered the efficiency studies free to participating school divisions.

Management specialists from the best management practices division of the Virginia Department of Planning & Budget are working with a handful of school divisions to determine how they can stretch tens of millions. Among the areas probed:

  • Organization.

  • Service delivery.

  • Human resources.

  • Facilities.

  • Finance.

  • Transportation.

  • Technology.

All seven sectors are intertwined in the $44.2 million third high, almost $40 million of it covered by the referendum. Some critics complain that the school is too pricey and the epitome of chronic overspending by WJC.

School Board chairman John Alewynse welcomes the efficiency study.” I think we run a relatively tight operation, but it would be silly to assume we can’t do better,” Alewynse said Tuesday. “ Hopefully the study can show us where and how. In any case, it will have the credibility of an objective, disinterested perspective. It can only help us. I think it is important the community see us taking every opportunity to make wise use of our resources.”

“There is always room for improvement,” agreed superintendent Carol Beers, who approached state officials about the study earlier this year at the request of the School Board.

The purpose of the state’s efficiency review is to identify administrative savings that can be gained so that we can put those savings back into the classroom. This study will identify specific ways to help us become a ‘leaner’ organization.

‘Lean’ is not a word usually associated with WJC Schools. The per-pupil cost for the 2002-03 school year was $8,126, compared with $6,545 for York Schools and $4,521 for rural New Kent Schools. Only three of 132 school divisions have pursued the efficiency study: Roanoke, Richmond and New Kent.

Results of Roanoke’s study revealed a potential savings of nearly $295,000, the equivalent of the starting salaries of nine new teachers there.

State officials identified $238,800 in savings in New Kent. Superintendent Roy Geiger said he decided to participate in the study because he wanted to “help public education.”

Geiger said in an interview, “Funding for K-12 education is precious, and we want to show that we are spending it wisely. There needs to be accountability that the funds are being used in a responsible way.”

The study took three months to complete, with the state absorbing all costs. Geiger pointed out that while the process was “very time-consuming,” he called the experience “extremely valuable.”

State officials were thorough in their research.

“They didn’t stop at my office,” Geiger said.”They went straight to the people working in the trenches to see if we were being as frugal as we thought we were being.”

The results revealed that among 30 comparable school divisions, New Kent spends the lowest amount per-dollar per-student in many categories, Geiger said.

“That’s good news and bad news,” Geiger said. “We were commended for stretching our dollars as far as we can, but clearly we think that if we had additional dollars, we could do even better.”

Other WJC School Board members besides Alewynse eagerly await the study.

“I feel the timing couldn’t be more perfect, as we are about to ask for the approval of $40 million for the school,” said board member Mary Ann Maimone, who promoted the efficiency study. “We must be both efficient and effective with precious school tax dollars.” With an eye toward the referendum, she added, “I think this can be a boost to community confidence in the School Board’s spending on public education.”

“I’m very much in favor of having this done,” agreed Ron Vaught. “It’s a very, very in-depth study. This will also allow us to see what is going on in surrounding school divisions, and that is always helpful.”

He pointed to a distinction related to administrative costs, which some people think are too high. “I think it would be good for us to take a look at not only the instructional costs per-pupil, but also the non-instructional costs per pupil.”

York County school officials are also pursuing the study, said Dennis Jarrett, chief finance officer for the division.

“We are interested,” Jarrett said. “I don’t know that we will be able to do it this year, but we have asked to be put on a waiting list. I think it would be good for the division for someone else to come in and take a look at our operations, and good for the taxpayers to see how their tax dollars are being spent.”

Half a dozen other divisions have expressed interest in the study, according to Pam Currey, supervisor of the efficiency review program.