Thursday, September 24, 2009

Caution With Consolidation

We will likely hear a lot of talk next legislative session (coming in January)about school district consolidation. Lawmakers will be on the hunt for money. Given that there was little enthusiasm for raising significant revenue last session, this session legislators will be even less keen on taxation with an election following. That means any idea that might have projected savings will be viable.

The consolidation of school districts must be about money, because there are no obvious education advantages to kids. School districts are wrapped up in communities, and thus identity, values, tradition and culture. It stands to reason that radical changes or the complete eradication of districts causes disruption in all of the above mentioned. That can't be good for kids and probably not for the all important, all holy, standardized test scores.

Getting back to economics, which appears to be the motive for consolidation, it is not clear that huge cost savings would result. First, DSEA will insist on the principle of "topping up". Nothing is more destructive to educator morale than having multiple people doing the same job with the same experience for significantly different salaries. Therefore, when districts are consolidated all salaries should be moved up to the top salary schedule among the group of consolidated districts (topping up). That action reduces much of the cost savings.

Delaware has experience with district consolidation. There was consolidation in the southern part of the state during the 1960s and '70s. In New Castle County, there was consolidation in the late 1970s as a result of court ordered desegregation. I don't know the experiences around those consolidations for good or bad. I would venture to say that most of the decision makers do not know these stories either, but we all should find out before passing legislation.

Also, the General Assembly studied district consolidation more than decade ago. It is unclear if the research resulted in a document. DSEA is attempting to locate and acquire the research if possible.

Caution is the word. With the best of intentions and the best of results, school district consolidation is still very disruptive to a lot of lives, most notably kid's lives. Therefore, let us not rush to judgement or action in the chase for cash.

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