GoBigEd

Monday, August 08, 2005


SOMEBODY CLUE THESE FOLKS IN ON THE WOEFUL TRUTH ABOUT SCHOOL CONSOLIDATION, ‘K?

Longtime World-Herald publisher Harold “Andy” Andersen has written two opinion columns in recent days that, with all due respect, were full of misinformation about the proposed consolidations of the Omaha Public Schools and its suburban neighbors, and the Class I, K-8 country schools being forced to merge with schools in bigger towns.

Mr. Andersen, along with OPS officials and the Legislature’s Education Committee chief, Sen. Ron Raikes of Lincoln, believe consolidating schools is a good idea.

GONG! They’re so, so wrong.

Would somebody please let Mr. Andersen and others carrying the school consolidation banner know some of the factoids from the following column?

It also would be nice to refer Mr. Andersen to the legal opinion reported in his own paper on July 23 by Douglas County Attorney Stu Dornan. That opinion stated what most people think – that the “one city, one school district” philosophy OPS is claiming as its justification for taking over the suburban districts does not exist in Nebraska law.

The 1891 law that Andersen and OPS is citing has to be interpreted in context. That’s our system of laws, right? Well, in the context of OTHER school law, it does NOT mean there can only be one school district per city.

Dornan found another Nebraska school law from the 1950s that talked about how you elect school boards for Class III districts coexisting in the same metropolitan area as Class V districts. Obviously, lawmakers anticipated population growth in Nebraska where that would happen. So they did NOT wish to mandate “one city, one school district” as the public policy of the State of Nebraska.

A Class III district is one with a population between 1,001 and 149,999 within its boundaries – like the suburban districts OPS is trying to swallow up.

OPS is the state’s only Class V district – one with a population of 200,000 or more.

So why would that 1950s state law talk about Class III and Class V districts being in the same metropolitan area – if we were supposed to stick to “one city, one school district?”

Because Mr. Andersen and OPS are flat wrong, that’s why.

And they’re wrong about consolidation being a good thing financially or academically, whether it’s the urban case involving OPS, or the rural one involving the Class I country schools. We’ll talk more about that tomorrow.

Meanwhile, would somebody please give them a heads-up on this stuff? At least, keep them honest as this debate goes on?

We may never see a retraction or apology. But at least they’d be forced to come up with some OTHER reasons to back these foolish consolidations that don’t contradict the law and the facts.

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School Consolidation Doesn’t Work

Q. Does research show that school consolidation is always a good idea, both financially and for learning purposes? Or is there a point where it’s counter-productive?

Since 1960, the number of U.S. school districts has declined by 39%, to 15,747. Ironically, though, school administrative staffs have grown by 500 percent – while the number of teachers has increased by only about one-tenth that rate, 57%. Teacher salaries and benefits used to make up 80% of a district’s budget, but now have dropped to about 50%. Growing numbers of education policymakers are now thinking that school consolidation has been overdone.


The loss of local control and representation, increased travel time, and decreased child safety are all good reasons school consolidation isn’t such a good idea – but higher spending and lower student achievement are even better reasons.

Efforts to break up giant school districts are under way in Los Angeles, where the L.A. school district may be split up into 30 separate districts, and Las Vegas, with nearly a quarter-million students, as well as elsewhere across the country. The trend is toward smaller schools and mid-sized districts.

Evidence is mounting that adding competition for huge monopoly school districts is astoundingly more effective for holding down spending, and spurring better student achievement and participation, than consolidating schools of any size.

According to a heavily-documented report that recommended a halt to proposed school consolidation in Arizona, the Goldwater Institute found that “empirical research shows consolidation increases administrative costs at the expense of classroom instruction, yielding larger classes, fewer teachers, and lower student achievement.”

The report found that consolidation results in larger, not smaller, administrative staffs, and little or none of the hoped-for economies of scale in purchasing.

Larger school districts tend to spend more on nonteaching school staff salaries and benefits -- administrative bloat and “mission creep” that detracts from student achievement, the report showed.

Fans of consolidation tout the “economies of scale,” but it actually doesn’t exist for public schools, according to economists. Purchased services and supplies come to just 14% of administrative costs, while salaries and benefits make up 84%. Consolidation does nothing to reduce the vast majority of administrative spending, because most of it relates to the size of the individual schools, not the size of the districts.

In fact, the study found, very small districts have among the lowest administrative spending because staff members “multitask,” reducing per-pupil spending for salaries and benefits.

Finally, and most importantly, small and medium school districts outperform large ones not only in administrative spending per pupil, but also dramatically so on test scores – and obtain three to 20 times more student participation in the life of the school than their large, urban counterparts.

The study concluded that conventional, forced school consolidation in Arizona could save from $17 to $34 per pupil – but 90 times as much money, $1,530 per pupil, could be saved if the competition of charter schools were expanded in that state, and student achievement would rise a projected 3% even with those significant cost savings.

Homework: Obtain sources for these facts from the report, “Competition or Consolidation? The School District Consolidation Debate Revisited,” Jan. 12, 2004, on
www.goldwaterinstitute.org/article.php/401.html



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