Olive Garden and your local school

You will not see the company Darden Concepts on any business sign in our community, yet they run many here and thousands more around America.

Drive through Boardman and Niles, and you are passing Darden Concepts when you pass Olive Garden and LongHorn Steakhouse. In other suburban strips, you are driving by Darden when you pass Cheddar’s, Yard House, The Capital Grille, Seasons 52, Bahama Breeze or an Eddie V’s. Until 2014, they owned Red Lobsters too.

Each one of those places is a distinct flavor and unique identity – completely unrelated to its Darden cousins.

Only a high-end foodie or stock investor would know the Darden backdrop in each. The other 99 percent of us just want to know if the salad and the bread bowls are bottomless.

Darden moves seamlessly behind the scenes of eight successful brands in a very competitive space.

They are not alone in this corporate structure.

The Hilton hotel chain is Waldorf-Astoria, DoubleTree, Embassy Suites, Canopy, Homewood Suites and more.

Procter & Gamble is Bounty, Dawn, Crest, Charmin, Vicks, Gillette and more.

Thousands of brands that affect our lives daily are successfully managed behind the scenes by a concentrated and efficient talent base.

In time, our schools will need to be the same:

Multiple districts that keep their individual identities for the sake of football, community and legacy – yet are run by a single, efficient administrative team.

My school lunch lady when I was a kid, Mrs. Gimlin, could yell lunch like no other. “LUNNNNNNNCH!” It stopped our whole neighborhood, it seemed.

There is a point south of the Niles shopping district on state Route 46 where, if you placed Mrs. Gimlin there, she could yell “LUNCH” to school kids in Niles, Mineral Ridge, McDonald and Girard.

If she stood at U.S. 224 and state Route 170, she could scream lunch in Boardman, Struthers, Poland, Lowellville and – with a good wind – even Springfield.

Their proximity and many districts like them makes for bold visions along the economics of what Darden, Procter & Gamble and Coca-Cola do.

Those three companies add up to more than 30 brands. Those 30 brands do not need 30 presidents, 30 chief financial officers, 30 branding agents, 30 transportation directors and such.

The pending economics of our schools make such a future inevitable. It’s not an “if” but a “when” – if you take a more bold look at recent levy pushes, job reductions and population losses.

Schools are reducing spending. Faced with money challenges, here were some of the actions this past spring:

Niles school cut 4 positions for next year as it stares down $1 million-plus in annual shortfalls. State officials say the district should cut 18 positions over time.

Struthers outspent its revenue in 2017 by $142,103. This year, the district’s negative spending looks to be $1,490,323. Not filling vacancies is a plan they are eyeing.

A layoff, five resignations and some retirements helped Poland shed about 11 full-time-equivalent positions this summer.

Boardman outlined a reduction of 12 teaching positions around many areas of the district, and that worked to get a new levy passed.

The thing with all of these positions, they are the lowest salaried, front-line, student contact points. They are pennies when faced with million-dollar issues that schools are facing.

The sharing and consolidating will have to eventually happen with the top positions.

In some places, that is already happening.

Google Ohio school Superintendent Jon Ritchie, and you will find him managing three neighboring school districts near Wooster. Those districts have the same treasurer too. That’s come about only in the past few years.

Across the state line in Pennsylvania, Mercer County has a citizens group called Consolidation Consortium, and they are looking at ways to streamline 12 school districts. A supporter is the superintendent in Greenville.

There are more examples, and the key is citizen-led – either through school boards or a community coalition. It’s not because school officials cannot do so. It’s that schools and community are ultra sensitive, and citizens ultimately need to make the call on their taxes and their community.

A Poland citizen asked a question to this point at a community meeting a few months back. Superintendent David Janofa didn’t flinch, saying it’s about the school boards assembling willing partner districts.

“Willing” is the key term.

We cheered House Bill 5 a couple weeks back in an editorial about some Trumbull County schools and Ohio Auditor Dave Yost studying shared services.

Those efforts are small in dollars compared to what will be needed. But the steps will hopefully help toward a longer vision like what is happening near Wooster and being studied in Mercer.

This can happen in many places without costing sports teams, band spots and valedictorian chances.

Individual schools and teams can exist as they have.

And in the background, they can be managed by a single, efficient, affordable administrative base.

The structure makes for many successful brands in our homes and retail districts.

It can make successful schools, too.

Todd Franko is editor of The Vindicator. He likes emails about stories and our newspaper. Email him at tfranko@vindy.com. He blogs, too, on vindy.com. Tweet him, too, at @tfranko.

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