Sunday, February 08, 2009

School Consolidation - Anderson and Indiana versions

Anderson's The Herald Bulletin reports ACS prepares new consolidation options:
"Each of the four new consolidation scenarios would save the financially strapped school district more than $5 million annually and trim staff by more than 80 positions, according to estimates by school officials. The scenarios involve closing up to five elementary schools and each includes shuttering South Side Middle School.

One option also includes turning either high school into a middle school facility. Another would close the Wigwam Complex and move ACS administrative offices to a new location.

The ACS advisory panel will take the options and create a recommendation for the school board. Superintendent Mikella Lowe said the final plan will likely be a unique configuration that incorporates elements from the latest options."

Then Superintendents don't buy big school argument appeared in The Muncie Star-Press:
"MUNCIE -- Local superintendents of small school corporations aren't buying the bigger-schools-are-better message being communicated by the governor's office and the Indiana Senate.


Their small school districts, they say, academically outperform many of their larger counterparts in some categories. Their systems already are efficient since there's less bureaucracy, the superintendents maintain, making it easier to reach students and parents. And they're already cutting costs by banding together to buy natural gas, insurance, textbooks and supplies.

Proponents of merging school districts say consolidating central office staff will create significant savings and enable high schools to add more courses while still maintaining community schools.

Senate Bill 521 calls for school districts with fewer than 500 students to merge by 2013. Corporations with 499 to 1,000 students must prove education standards are being met in order to avoid mandatory consolidation. High schools won't be allowed to close for five years. The bill could impact 48 of Indiana's 293 school corporations."

***

According to Terry Spradlin, associate director for education policy with the Center for Evaluation and Education Policy at Indiana University, research doesn't reflect consolidation results in significant academic gains or financial efficiency.

"(It is) a reasonable question," Spradlin said. "If we're going to do this, why and how much will we save?"

In terms of student performance, some research supports smaller schools, prompting some larger school district to turn to a school-within-a--school concept. Such efforts are supported by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation's small school initiative.

"There are many large schools that are also very inefficient," Spradlin said. "A case really can be made if we really want to make schools efficient, we should really downsize large school districts to make them more efficient."

Spradlin admits there are some small school districts that should merge, but says that decision should be made locally, on a case-by-case basis, and not be forced by the state.

***

For proof that small school districts can perform well, one need look no further than Wes-Del Community Schools, Supt. Steve McColley said.

On average, more Wes-Del students receive a Core 40 diploma than their peers statewide -- 70 percent to 67 percent.

And taxpayers get more bang for their buck when compared to some larger districts. Wes-Del spends a total of $10,249 per student when all seven education funds -- general, capital projects, transportation and bus replacement, special education and preschool, debt service and retirement/severance bond -- are taken into account.


I admit that I have watched this problem in Anderson from the sidelines, but what I understand the problem to be is this:
  1. Declining enrollment.
  2. Declining property tax funds.
  3. Too many buildings.
What I do not understand is whether we are actually saving money and improving education or saving money at the expense of education. The Muncie Star Press article explains the difference between those two concepts.

Everyone should know that we are facing a huge economic downturn. We also ought to know that education will improve both the children's economic potential and their quality of life.

On the other hand, everyone wants to save on their taxes. Oddly, no one seems to ask if the schools ought to be funded from property taxes, but that is an issue for another day.

Between the need for education and the need to keep property taxes sensible, the property tax issue seems to be winning the day. Is this how it ought to be? Let me put it this way - are we being penny-wise and pound-foolish about education?

Should we be looking at ways to save through consolidation on the business side of schools (supplies, physical plant, administration) that leave the education side nimble and small enough to effectively teach the children?

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