Consolidation–The Dirty “C” Word

February 28, 2010 at 9:52 pm 1 comment

It appears there is no relief in the short-term for the financial woes that schools in Kansas and many other states are feeling. An article in today’s edition of The Hutchinson News summarizes the results of last year’s legislative post-audit. In a nutshell, it points to School Consolidation as a viable means for saving money. In fact, the report has two scenarios–one would reduce the number of districts in Kansas from 293 down to 266 districts. The other scenario would reduce the number of districts to 152.

The first scenario would result in an estimated $18 million dollar savings by closing 50 school buildings and reducing teaching and administrative staff by 230. The second scenario purports to save $138 million by reducing staff numbers by 1500 and schools by 304. However, the researchers clearly state the savings wouldn’t be realized all at once.

Patrons, school officials, and even some students rebuff the idea of consolidating with neighboring towns. If you’ve never lived in one of these small communities, it is probably difficult to understand the emotions tied to the matter. It’s definitely not just a simple dollars and cents issue.

For many of these small communities, the school district is the last piece of identify for the town. People fear if the school closes, all hope is lost. They worry their little town will be destined to completely dry up and cease to exist. For others, it’s a matter of tradition. Many generations in their families graduated from the district and they would like to see that carried on.

Many arguments are made. Kids would have to ride buses too far and for too long. Kids learn better in smaller classrooms and this will be lost if we consolidate. While both (or all in some cases) communities have more building than what is needed for the kids currently being served, they aren’t suitable to accommodate the increase in population that would be realized with consolidation. It would be a waste to let buildings deteriorate from lack of use over time. You’ll mess up our winning football, basketball, volleyball etc. You get the idea…

When all is said and done, a town/school district is often willing to entertain the idea but ONLY if that means their community school won’t close, but instead will get to be the site for the delivery of educational services.

I’ve watched districts live through consolidation. My own children grew up and were educated in a district that was consolidated shortly before we moved into the area. It is a painful experience for the adults in the communities. The kids seem to adjust fine. It is the adults who carry baggage.

As unpopular as it is to write, I fear that consolidation may be the most appropriate option in SOME instances. However, I do question if a report built around efficiencies can do justice to other factors that should be at the heart of educational decisions. For example, just because a high school has some empty classrooms doesn’t mean it would be a great idea to move elementary students into those spaces.

My bigger fear is this will be another lost opportunity. Instead of capitalizing on the permission inherent in a crisis moment to look beyond the current way of doing business, we continue to look for ways to hang onto the past. Consolidation is probably only an issue if you plan to continue to operate in the same way as we always have.

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Entry filed under: Educational Finance.

Dirty Little Secret in Education Hasta Luego

1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Greg  |  February 10, 2010 at 3:44 pm

    I think you pretty much have summarized the whole consolidation issue. My state representative is very supportive of education but finally admitted that he has no choice. Education must be cut at some level to balance the budget. Consolidation is probably the best way to ease the pain with the least impact on kids. I too look at this as opportunity to fine tune education – we cannot let this opportunity be lost in a maze of political infighting.

    Reply

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