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The State Of Education: School District Consolidation

04/20/10 7:55AM By Annie Guyon
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(Host)  Writer and Commentator Annie Guyon opposes the move in Montpelier to consolidate school districts, believing the key to reducing budgets is to keep education local.

Two years ago, the Rockingham School Board was facing the difficult reality of budget cuts at the middle school, and reductions to crucial programs seemed imminent.

Concerned parents spread the word, and over 160 citizens showed up at the next meeting to make their voice heard. After hours of powerful testimonials--from kids, coaches, parents, grandparents, teachers and staff-no major reductions came to pass.  This was not due to a sudden discovery of untapped funds; it was because of the relationships that exist between our School Board, its constituency and administrators. 

The principal was confident that she could pare down other expenditures in order to avoid making significant cuts to curriculum.  Due to her fiscal acumen and awareness of every paintbrush, book and basketball in her budget, the Board trusted her to reallocate her limited funds as she saw fit, with one member later attesting that it is not the School Board's job to micromanage principals.---

Thanks to certain lawmakers in Montpelier, however, every school budget in the state could soon end up being micromanaged, and from afar.  Several consolidation bills being considered would dissolve all existing 280 school districts and 58 Supervisory Unions, replacing them with as few as 14 Supervisory Unions, each with a sole School Board.

With over 92,000 K-through-12 public school students in the state, that means there'd be approximately one School Board for every 6,000 kids, who would be spread out over an average of 700 square miles. 

As it is, our local School Board works long hours addressing the unique challenges facing schools with less than a thousand students total in a 40-square mile jurisdiction.  The notion that one school board would have to serve 6 times as many kids scattered across 16 times the amount of terrain is not only absurd but goes against core tenets of Vermont's educational system, which was founded on the premise of small schools directly supported by local School Boards. ---

Consolidation supporters declare that education is a business and that installing county-size supervisory unions would allow the state to achieve the most efficient use of resources on everything from food services to office supplies, thus reducing cost-per-pupil.

However, numerous studies show that the relationship between district size and spending is far more complex than the average corporate model and that consolidation usually proves to be more costly over the long-term due to school-specific needs that oversized bureaucratic entities simply cannot predict, much less adequately address.

Consolidation will erode the integrity of Vermont's educational ideal, very likely forcing school closures and homogenizing districts into massive Supervisory Unions that, to me, sound positively Orwellian.  The success and individual characteristics of our schools will surely be diminished if not derailed by the misguided and unfounded premise of consolidation as a quick-fix for declining budgets. 

The best way for districts to save money is not to consolidate but to wisely cultivate the garden in their own administrative backyards--by hiring good principals and letting them do their jobs.



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