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Tuesday, Mar 19 2013 11:00 PM

Weigh savings from merging college districts

By The Bakersfield Californian

The biggest obstacle to the cost-saving consolidation of community colleges is not related to student achievement or advancement. It's the preservation of deeply entrenched fiefdoms.

California has a lot of them among its 72 community college districts -- half of which are within 20 miles of another community college district. And, as California Watch reported this week, most of those close-proximity districts are single-school districts. That's not the case with any community college districts in Kern County, but the West Kern Community College District, a single-school district (Taft College), is a mere 42 miles from Bakersfield College and the three-campus Kern Community College District.

How much could we save taxpayers -- and help students -- by consolidating districts? Depends on how thorough the unifications might be, but California Watch estimated that the consolidation of three Riverside County community college districts alone could save $4.9 million annually by eliminating redundant administrations, support staffs, trustee boards and assorted other expenses.

That's enough money to pay for 960 additional class sections -- which, if such a consolidation could take place tomorrow, would put a huge dent in the number of Riverside County students waiting to take classes they can't currently get. Statewide, 470,000 students have been wait-listed, California Watch reports.

There would be consequences to consolidating community college districts, not the least of which would be cutting loose presumably competent administrators and other workers. But California taxpayers were asked just last year to accept a new, ostensibly temporary tax to support public schools, colleges and universities -- and voters ponied up. It's galling to think that community colleges, even as they benefit from Proposition 30, could be doing more on their end to cut costs -- or, better still, use those savings to serve students the way their founding charter directed them to.

Consolidation could be phased in over time. State lawmakers need to consider their options and take action where it would be appropriate and meaningful.

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