What happened in Vegas
Outsource your landscaping. Stagger your bell times. Streamline your use of outside reading programs.
These were just a few of the recommendations the Gibson Consulting Group gave the Clark County School District in 2011. A look at this report provides a hint of what they will consider if the Hillsborough County school district hires them, as expected, for a comprehensive audit.
Clark County -- which includes Las Vegas -- is the nation's fifth largest school district. When school officials there contracted with Gibson, they were contending with some issues similar to Hillsborough's: A rapid increase in the number of students who were bilingual and bicultural, the need to prepare for Common Core, and yearly uncertainty about state funding. Reading and math proficiency were low when compared with Houston, Broward and Miami-Dade County. The high school graduation rate was relatively low, as were participation rates in the Advanced Placement and SAT exam programs.
While the issues are not all the same, consider some of what Gibson suggested:
1. Cut down on duplicative curricula. The study identified 44 programs that had been purchased for reading alone. Their use varied from school to school. And, with more than 30 percent of students moving each year, teachers did not even know how to test the kids.
2. Cut down on tests. This was a theme repeated throughout the report.
3. Adopt a more realistic budget calendar. Goal setting and school improvement plans were happening after the budget was written, largely because of delayed funding information from the state.
Some of what consultants might recommend will not be well received by families and labor groups.
For example: The Gibson group recommended that low-enrollment AP courses be replaced by a virtual learning model.
They asked for relaxed work rules for bus drivers, to boost efficiency; and an outsourcing of custodial work. They found the Vegas school district was paying $2.34 per square foot to clean the schools, well above the industry benchmark of $1.59, and district wages were one reason for the difference. They also recommended that the district outsource its landscaping work, (The Hillsborough district did this during the recession -- and wound up with some landscape workers with lengthy arrest records.)
The consultants also called for more transparency in the budgeting process, including school-by-school breakdowns; and improved monitoring of customer service.