n-forum_bicknell-010809 School chief's retirement is an opportunity for Yarmouth

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With the announced retirement of Superintendent Kenneth Murphy, the Yarmouth School Committee has a wonderful opportunity to lead the needed reform in our public schools.
For the past few years, many people have advocated for needed school consolidation. Not the unrealistic consolidation that the governor has proposed, but one focused on administrative costs, transportation costs, “backroom” functions and gaining efficiencies from the technology that we have invested in. Now Yarmouth has the opportunity to show the rest of the state a new way to become more efficient at administrative costs.
Instead of spending a lot of time and money doing an exhaustive search to find a replacement for the current superintendent, look to a neighboring town that has a superintendent we can share. Offer that superintendent a substantial salary increase to manage both systems and split the total cost between the two districts. Yarmouth and Falmouth, Yarmouth and Freeport, even Yarmouth and School Administrative District 51 are not as large as many school districts being managed by one superintendent in many parts of the country and even in Maine.
We don’t need to put all the students in the same building to realize efficiencies of scale. With common technology, many “backroom” functions can become more efficient. Through an efficient use of technology and common schedules, multiple classes could be taught by one teacher. Other savings could easily be realized in transportation and maintenance costs.
Schools could continue to function as they presently exist in each town. They would just have a common manager at the top who could look for efficiencies and consolidations of services as the systems grow or shrink. Common schedules and efficiencies of scale will allow more and more savings over time.
I was on the School Committee that hired Murphy many years ago. We expected a growing student population, not one that has remained at about the same size over the last 20 years. We were able to fund the needed programs without an onerous tax burden on businesses and home owners. That is not the case today. The current School Committee needs to give serious consideration to any reasonable alternatives to “business as usual” that might make our schools more efficient, while retaining the quality education that we all want for our children and grandchildren.
Let’s lead the state of Maine into a more efficient and effective model for managing our schools, while retaining many of the benefits of local schools. Let’s spend the available dollars to give our children the best education possible, not high-priced administration. Any cost savings that we can achieve will help to accomplish that goal.
Yarmouth resident Brian Bicknell is a former high school math teacher and past member of the Yarmouth School Committee.