Considering Process Improvement Instead of Consolidation

Gov. Ed Rendell’s bold proposal to consolidate 400 of the state’s 501 active school districts in Pennsylvania into 100 to cut costs may or may not come to pass. While consolidation might be part of the solution, any district, governmental entity or small business can reduce its costs, becoming more efficient and effective by improving their processes.

The General Assembly commissioned a study on school district consolidation a mere two years ago concluded that school district consolidation was not a silver bullet solution. To learn more, visit this site. http://lbfc.legis.state.pa.us/reports/2007/289.PDF That legislative study concluded there were only 88 districts ripe for consolidation, into 34 districts, a reduction of 54 districts. The Morning Call in Allentown also published data from the PA Dept. of Education on all 501 districts which can be viewed at http://projects.mcall.com/school_consolidation/

This seems to confirm research done by Andrew Coulson, Director for the Cato Institute’s Center for Educational Freedom, who found that districts of about 2,900 students are the most cost efficient. To read his article in full, visit this site. http://www.cato.org/pub_display.php?pub_id=8265

Many leading companies including Motorola, General Electric and Allied Signal dramatically cut costs, increased profits and improved customer service by improving processes, using tools like Lean Six Sigma and others.

For example, the City of Fort Wayne, Indiana, a city of approx. 100,000 has implemented process improvement, using Lean and Six Sigma to improve customer service, reduce costs and increase the effectiveness of city government. Using data based decision-making, empowerment of employees and creating visual process maps were key components to the success of the program. This initiative and the various projects completed are available on-line via the link below.

http://www.cityoffortwayne.org/index.php/content/view/1012/1154/

Ryan Chasey, who was the Quality Director at the City and is now president of a not-for-profit High Performance Government Network that helps local government organizations improve performance, helped lead many of the initiatives said the “buy in from the top leadership was critical to the success of the program there.” At the time, Ft. Wayne was in the process of annexing and growing by 30% in population and by territory by 40%. With an annual budget of $200 million the city service leaders had to adapt and do more with the same resources. The key was to introduce process improvement.

“In the past, Indiana in a similar fashion to Pennsylvania proposed consolidating local government to save costs. A study by the State Chamber of Commerce estimated that consolidation savings would be $600-$800 million annually. The High Performance Government Network http://www.hpgnetwork.com has analyzed the annual local government spend in Indiana, and they estimated that by improving the internal performance of the local government by only 5%, they could save $1.2 billion,” Ryan concluded.

Ryan also noted, “the City boasts saving or avoiding costs totaling over $31 million from 2000-2007’.

Darren Thompson, a black belt consultant, and school board member at Franklin Community School Corporation in Indiana, has been coaching several projects to increase efficiencies in non academic support functions. Examples include improving maintenance operations, text book management and certified teacher hiring practices. “The issue for public schools is to garner appropriate savings in the support areas to shift resources to their core mission of educating kids.”

Most schools are already using “Data Driven Decision Making (DDDM)” to drive improvement in the classroom. Both DDDM and Lean Six Sigma (LSS) have its roots in statistical analysis pioneered by W. Edward Deming. The methodologies are similar, but DDDM is designed specifically for assisting educators in the classroom. The application of LSS outside the class room – streamlining business operations and processes, along with DDDM, makes for a very powerful combination to help school corporations, and more importantly, their students.

All the links in this article are easily available on this site.

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One thought on “Considering Process Improvement Instead of Consolidation

  1. Rob,

    Excellent writing and points! As with any type of organization, there are huge improvements to be gained by really examining the critical success factors and everything the school organizations do to work toward them. Relatively simple tools and techniques, like mapping processes and identifying potential improvements with people in the organization, can really help to find ways to streamline operations and make our schools as effective and efficient as possible.

    Best regards,

    Dean Smith

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