Saturday, September 8, 2012

What makes amalgamation more expensive?

On September 4, 2012 in the online edition of our local newspaper, The NEWS, a reader. Jessica, asked, “Why would amalgamation be more expensive? I assumed it would save money.” That certainly is an important question that I’d like to answer,

Years ago, when I was on Council in Pictou, the Union of Nova Scotia Municipalities paid an expert from the USA to come to our annual conference and advise on the pros & cons of amalgamation. That community development expert advised us that small was cheaper and more efficient. (... continued)

The example he gave us was "the most efficient and cost effective public works department is one unit consisting of one worker driving and maintaining one truck.” Adding a second such unit will not change that noticeably but as you continue to add more workers and trucks it becomes more expensive and less efficient because you must add layers above them to supervise and coordinate their work and maintenance and eventually, another layer to supervise, coordinate and manage the supervisors. As you do so, the productivity of each additional truck and driver will be the same or approximately the same as the initial truck and driver you started with. However, because of the added higher salaries, benefits, offices and other operational costs that you will need to pay to maintain those supervisory and management layers, your cost per each additional truck and driver will continue to rise.

I learned this hard lesson first hand when we bowed to Provincial pressure and amalgamated the local school boards in Pictou County into a regional school board. I was Chair of our school board in Pictou at the time. We had three small schools including a world famous Pictou Academy that had spawned the great Dalhousie University, a local teaching staff and one superintendent, Fred Turley, who shared an office and a secretary with Stan McNeill the Principal at Pictou Academy.

When we amalgamated, Fred and the other town superintendents were moved into that present school board building on the road to Westville and each was given an office along with an assistant superintendent and a secretary to help them. There was then another superintendent appointed to guide and manage these superintendents and a group of subject superintendents appointed to rule over Math, English and various other subjects taught in the schools. That is how such bureaucracies build. It would, I'm sure, be educational to observe what happened following the amalgamation of the regional school boards into the mammoth Distrct School Board we now call the Chignecto District School Board.

When I was Chair of the local school board in Pictou, we had six local representatives on the board and any parent could just pick up the phone or quickly find and speak to one us in town, the barber shop or the Post Office anytime they had a concern. I think the board cost about 150 dollars a month as we each received about 20 dollars a month honourarium to cover expenses. I wonder how many parents speak to their representative now or even know who their representative is or how to reach him or her? And I wonder what the cost per month is now for school board representatives honourariums and expenses?

When a governance study is done in Pictou County, I hope these are questions that will be included.
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