One of our regular posters raised an interesting point during the debate over the charter school planned for Southwest Georgia. The poster noted that the five affected districts have fewer than 5,000 students total. If they were s0 worried about losing funding to a charter school, why not consider the obvious way to save money — consolidate?
Good question. Why not?
Here is what the poster wrote:
If this isn’t a case for consolidation of small counties, I don’t know what is….
These are among the smallest counties in Georgia. The five of them combined have fewer than 5000 students. Compare this to Gwinnett, with about 160,000 students, Cobb with about 108,000, or DeKalb with just under 100,000.
Yet, because they do not have economies of scale and have some of the same fixed costs as larger counties, their per-pupil costs are among the highest in the state. Three of them are in the top 10 for per-pupil spending, and all are in the top 25 – and its a sure bet they don’t have near the tax base of the metro counties.
This is pathetic. I bet none of the local school boards or superintendents would want to consolidate and give up their pitiful little power bases for the good of the children, but where is the gubernatorial or state school superintendent candidate who might make this a platform? It would be a terribly unpopular platform in many areas, but in many ways it’s the only practical solution to reduce Georgia’s governmental bloat.
A few years ago, I looked into consolidation and was told that it would never happen because small systems would not surrender their sportsl teams. I was also told that the schools and teams provided a community bond in counties that have little else binding their citizens. I think that is a real concern, but wonder why the communities couldn’t coalesce around a regional high school football team? Are the rivalries that deep that they could not be overcome?
Legitimate questions also can be raised about the savings from consolidating small districts into larger ones: A 2005 report by the National Rural Education Association concluded that the educational and financial results of district consolidations seldom produce either the savings or the academic improvements sought.
In a 2004 report, the Goldwater Institute in Phoenix, Ariz., studied the issue in response to the possibility of united small districts in Arizona. It stated:
In November 2002, the Arizona Office of the Auditor General (OAG) released a report on school districts’ administrative spending that found, on average, small school districts spent more per pupil than large districts. In response, the Arizona State Legislature established a commission to study the potential savings from statewide school district consolidation.
A closer examination of the OAG report suggests statewide school district consolidation is unlikely to produce the hoped-for fiscal savings. Moreover, empirical research shows consolidation increases administrative costs at the expense of classroom instruction, yielding larger classes, fewer teachers, and lower student achievement. Therefore, consolidation is a marginal reform, best implemented on a limited, case-by-case basis.
The Goldwater report also addresses in depth the psychic toll to rural communities from consolidation:
Emil J. Haller and David H. Monk, professors of education administration at Cornell University, studied rural school district consolidation from the 1940s to the 1970s and concluded that “consolidation was “profoundly undemocratic.” Focusing his research on rural school districts, Paul Nachtigall explains why: “Seeking economies of scale through school consolidation are, at best, elusive,” and at worst, he continues, “to the extent that closing schools [as a result of district consolidation] contributes to the demise of rural communities, the dollars saved are a high price to pay for the loss of those communities.”