Guyon: Consolidation Reconsidered
When my children were in elementary school, I used to help teachers during reading and writing lessons and was very involved in our little school community. I believed that, when it came to education, smaller is better.
Now, as a business owner, property owner, tax-payer and voter, m y perspective on the entire public education landscape has evolved, as has my understanding of the complexities and controversy in the school consolidation issue.
And as my kids get closer to college age, I need to work more and my volunteering time is limited. So these days, I have to trust that the people running the high school and the Supervisory Union itself are doing right by my kids day-to-day, and that they not only know every teacher, but every student as well.
They are and they do and being able to trust in this is one of the reasons that I now believe more than ever in the value of small schools and districts. But don’t take my word for it. Consider the facts.
For starters, though school mergers may initially reduce spending, unforeseen expenses typically emerge over the long term, an outcome that many struggling districts simply cannot predict, much less afford. School mergers often end up requiring increased bussing, more staff, additional rooms if not buildings, and other steep, unexpected budget items.
And when it comes to research on the impact that consolidation has on the students themselves, the results are yet more sobering. One study concluded that increasing a school’s size by 100 students led to a 4% decline in learning. Another suggested that students of low socio-economic status do particularly poorly in large schools and yet another showed that dropout rates and wages-earned-by-graduates often worsen after schools merge.
But with student populations fluctuating over time and the cost of education always rising, we need a solution that’s smart, versatile and lasting.
As many school districts across the country have proved, compromise can be the most pragmatic and effectual option—like letting schools retain local control while collaborating on bulk purchasing, and having some staff members move between schools.
My hope is that we’ll work to find a middle ground, where there’s no negative impact on students, the quality of education isn’t compromised, class sizes don’t balloon, transportation expenses don’t skyrocket, new construction isn’t needed and district leaders can still know the kids they’re hired to serve.
I hope we’ll heed the abundance of evidence that warns against consolidation by putting our heads together - not our schools.