Sunday, March 29, 2009

Gov. Rendell School Consolidation Commission Authority

Hold on. Alert. If the General Assembly of PA doesn't go for either of two commission-recommended plans for school consolidation across the state, the law still enables authority to consolidate schools across the state -


the Department of Education.

Isn't that nice? talk about political power in the hands of a few. How about in the hands of a few - unelected individuals - appointed individuals - and appointed by whom? The Governor of the state of PA.

Net the Truth Online

• The proposed commission would have one year to develop a plan for the reorganization or school
districts. It would be responsible for determining the optimal enrollment size, new statewide boundaries, and an implementation plan.
• To ensure progress is made, the Governor proposes that the commission adopt up to two merger plans. After a period of public comment, the General Assembly would be required to give an “up or down” vote to each commission consolidation plan within six months.
• If the General Assembly rejects both plans, the law would vest authority for consolidating school districts with the State Board of Education.

2/17/2009 3:34 AM
School district consolidation considered
By Dawn Keller, Staff writer

Gov. Ed Rendell wants to consolidate Pennsylvania school districts down to 100.

But is that a good idea?

It depends on whom you ask.

The research about it is murky. Proponents say it will save money on administrative and other costs, while opponents say that it's a short-term savings that will cost more in the long run and won't improve student achievement.

Rendell says the merger could save millions of dollars, primarily by consolidating administrative services that would stop spending taxpayer money on redundant costs and instead put them in the classroom. He says individual schools would not need to close or merge.

"Full-scale school consolidation provides a very effective way to relieve the local property tax burden all across Pennsylvania," he said recently.

Rendell said small schools are important but reducing the number of districts doesn't automatically mean bigger schools. Fewer districts means that the local share of public education costs can be spread across a wider population, he said.

Critics of forced mergers don't believe him. In Arkansas, consolidation was forced along with promises that no schools would close, said Joe Bard, executive director of the Pennsylvania Association of Rural and Small Schools.

Since the state order, 35 percent of the involved schools in Arkansas have closed, he said.

Marty Strange, policy director for Rural Schools and Community Trust, said it's impossible to save as much money as Rendell is suggesting by consolidating administrative services.

"The money is in the teachers," Strange said. "Unless you are going to lay off teachers, it's not going to happen."

Closing districts is always a precursor to closing schools, he said.

Strange said the myth that consolidating schools to make them bigger will save money is part of "Americana." The problem is that research doesn't back it up, he said.

As schools get bigger, they spend more on administration, he said. In tiny districts, a superintendent usually also is the transportation director, the curriculum director and sometimes the only central office administrator, he said.

When districts centralize, there are increased costs of communication, an increased number of specialists, assistant superintendents and curriculum directors, Strange said.

Over 10 years, West Virginia closed 325 schools and enrollment declined by 44,000 students, yet the number of administrators increased by 16 percent, he said.

"The centralized bureaucracies do not shrink; they grow," he said.

Mergers aren't always bad, Strange said. Sometimes districts determine they can work together better as one, he said. But when it's forced by a state government, it doesn't end up saving a lot of money, he said.

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