Tuesday, September 27, 2011

More On Consolidation

My previous post supported the idea of consolidating special governmental units. Now, let's take a look at what should be considered when deciding how to restructure government. We should have some overriding principles, beyond just saving money. Saving money is a valid goal, but if that is all that we were trying to achieve, in the process of cutting costs we would risk eliminating some of the desirable functions that are being carried out by the existing governmental units. That is the mistake that the Tea Party has been making by focusing just on money and not on consequences.

For me, one goal should be to restructure in a way that allows us not just to do the same things we have been doing, but to do more. For example, there is little benefit to consolidating school districts if we don't end up doing a better job of teaching our children. To just teach them as well as we have been, for less money, isn't worth putting much effort into.

How could we improve education through consolidation? One way would be to expand the scope of consolidation in a way that would give our children a broader range of educational experiences. Why just combine the four districts in our little suburb? Our districts, and others in the area, could draw their district boundaries differently, so that kids would have more interactions in the classroom with kids of different income levels, and ethnic, cultural, and racial identities. The segregation of housing in the Chicago area makes this difficult, but some improvement could be made for at least some of the kids without burdening anyone with a longer bus or carpool ride.

By consolidating school districts we could also even out school funding, so that more equal amounts of money would be available to teach children than is available under the present system, under which the quality of education a child receives relies on property values in the vicinity of the child's home.

There are also improvements which could be made while consolidating and eliminating other special districts. It doesn't make much sense to have a lot of little governmental units with different capabilities in charge of treating waste water, which is all being discharged into the same watershed and which we all end up drinking. Nor does it seem sensible to have streets in one town cleared quickly after a snowfall when, a few blocks down, the same streets become impassable as soon as you drive into the next town.

So, what prevents restructuring and consolidating in a way that would bring about better results for everyone? People who don't care about everyone. People who want their own kids to have the best education and are willing to ignore the inadequate education that other people's kids have. People who are satisfied if their libraries are well-stocked, even if the next town's library's shelves are bare.

The administrators who want to protect their own jobs and fiefdoms understand how people think. They know that all they have to do to prevent change is to encourage people to be concerned only with themselves. They know how to frighten people into thinking that they will lose control over their local schools and parks and streets if they expand jurisdictions so that other people will be served.

That is why any effort towards consolidation in the well-to-do suburbs like the one I live in must have goals that are broader than just saving money. Because as concerned as people are about money, they will quickly abandon the cause if it starts going in a direction that they perceive threatens their privileged position. It may seem odd, but the only way consolidation will gain any traction is if the people who want to consolidate districts in order to save money but who still want their kids educated, their water pure, and their streets plowed, realize that the only way they can achieve their goals is to spend some of their money on other people. At present, they are paying instead for the illusion that if they keep their money in their own little communities, served by a multitude of special taxing units, they can get everything they want. They are wasting a lot of money for this illusion.

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