Education is the 2nd Largest Provincial Expenditure- can we operate more efficiently?

Like many education and early learning advocates, I was saddened this week to hear Minister Eggen say that the province was backing away from their commitment for Full Day Kindergarten

I understand the fiscal pressures of the province and the fact that there is no NEW money — but what if there were millions of dollars in cost savings and efficiencies within the Education system that could be spend more collaboratively?

On Tuesday, June 6th, 2017, the Edmonton Public School Board will be debating the following motion I put forward:

RECOMMENDATION

  1. That the Edmonton Public School Board initiate a “blue ribbon”, third party panel to study efficiencies in operational services of school jurisdictions across the province in all education spending to ensure that resources provided to the classroom are maximized and front line staff are protected.
  2. The Edmonton Public School Board allocates $10,000 from the board initiative fund to cover meeting expenses and incidentals of the panel.

BACKGROUND

  1. The recommendation would contemplate convening a blue ribbon panel with third party input of education and business experts to study efficiencies in operational services of school jurisdictions across the province in all educational spending to ensure that resources provided to the classroom are maximized and front line staff are protected.
  2. If approved, this initiative would be delegated to the Board Audit Committee to determine logistics. The timeline could focus on specific areas and would be coordinated with input by our administration.
  3. The outcomes identified would be brought forward to a future public board meeting and shared with the provincial government.
  4. The costs identified with this initiative would be covered by the board initiative fund and an initial estimate is $10,000.

Rationale:

Education is the 2nd largest provincial expenditure next to health care. The majority of that funding is allocated to 61 different school boards overlapping across Alberta. This motion provides an opportunity for our board to reaffirm the message to the provincial government and all other school jurisdictions that we are open for business and we are looking to collaborate.

The first step would be studying the issue — let’s find ways to save money and bring experts together to shake the collective school piggy bank. If we can pool resources together to increase our purchasing power and find efficiencies in operational services, we could not only save money but improve the educational experience for our students.

The second step would depend on the outcomes highlighted in the report, but it could involve greater partnerships between school districts, one-off initiatives, or outcomes yet to be contemplated.

Minister Eggen recently said:

“I’ve been pushing hard for school boards to co-operate in regards to transportation and procurement, even physical buildings,” Eggen said Friday. 

At the Edmonton Public Audit Committee, we voted to add two external auditors and they have added great value as an additional set of eyes to our board internal processes. It is helpful to have an external set of eyes ask questions and share ideas.

In our own district, one area I’ve been impressed with is the economies of scale that we apply to 205 schools. Our Finance and Central staff team are phenomenal and have been looking at various processes to make sure that we are always putting our core mandate first: Education. For example, at EPSB shared purchasing of Chrome Books saved 25%. Shared waste management collection between schools saved considerable resources as well. A pet peeve of mine, graphing calculators for high school, could be another area where we could take advantage of bulk purchasing. These are just a few of the additional ideas that we could showcase. As a large district, we can take advantage of economies of scale and save dollars for all students.

Findings from our Blue Ribbon Panel would be shared with other school districts and government funders. Millions could be redirected every single year back to the classroom across Alberta, school fees eliminated, and much more.

Here are just a few Ideas that could be explored: 

  • Centralized payroll systems
  • Technology purchasing
  • Software licensing
  • Regional Student transportation departments
  • Purchasing power – Economies of scale across regions Infrastructure
  • Investigate provincial or geographic software licenses and shared hardware for enterprise systems that can be used by a number of jurisdictions.
  • Investigate the sharing of business services (i.e. payroll, infrastructure project management, transportation, etc.)
  • Investigate common purchasing arrangements for resources and materials, including computer hardware, furniture and equipment, etc.
  • and many more…
Cross-district collaboration isn’t an entirely brand new idea, but I would like to see it scaled out considerably. Another example of collaboration that comes to mind is the shared transportation initiative with Edmonton Catholic Schools: The Edmonton Student Transportation Authority (ESTA) could save $2.5 Million and result in efficiencies annually.

The ESTA Pilot in Edmonton was supposed to provide administrative cost savings, efficiencies, higher levels of service, and a better product that would benefit both the Catholic and the Public school board.  Edmonton Catholic Trustee Patricia Grell wrote on her blog (https://grellblog.wordpress.com/2017/02/27/cooperation-is-the-foundation-of-the-future-of-catholic-education-in-alberta/):

Currently, ECSD is working on a partnership with EPSB to share the operation and costs associated with busing.  EPSB and ECSD have established a joint Edmonton Student Transportation Authority or ESTA which will significantly reduce the costs of busing and lower ride times. EPSB and ECSD have agreed to establish ESTA because a preliminary study in 2014 revealed that more than a $2.5 million/year would be saved with this collaborative effort and ride times would be reduced significantly.  I commend our administration for continuing to work on this partnership with EPSB so that our students get the best possible transportation service we can offer.  We are following the example of Parkland Public and Evergreen Catholic school boards which already share busing.”
That is just one example of one collaboration between two school districts. Imagine the possibility for other collaborations to be scaled across Alberta.
Hundreds of millions could be redirected every single year back to the classrooms, and maybe we just might be able to find the money for other crucial investments such as Full Day Kindergarten for the Children who need it the most.

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  • Michael Janz
    published this page in Blog 2020-12-13 18:26:59 -0700

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