Mandated consolidation hinders instead of helps

Staff Writer
Chillicothe Times-Bulletin

Discussing consolidation, would you choose an option that included:

• larger school enrollment?

• longer bus rides for students?

• less individual attention for students?

• no guaranteed savings and a potential increase in cost?

According to a recent report issued by the National Education Policy Center, those are the results that can be expected if the recent proposals for massive, forced consolidation of public school districts come to pass in Illinois.

The NEPC in February released its report titled “Consolidation of Schools and Districts: What the Research Says and What It Means.”

After reviewing the available current data and research regarding consolidation, the NEPC report found that claims of cost benefits and educational benefits are unsubstantiated.

The reporter concludes, “Avoid statewide mandates for consolidation and steer clear of minimum sizes for schools and districts.”

Here are some myths and facts about state mandated consolidation:

Myth: Mandated consolidation would save $100 million in Illinois.

• Actually, the NEPC study compared pre- and post-consolidation expenditures and found that they were not reduced and cited increased costs for transporting students more miles, necessary building upgrades or new construction to accommodate larger enrollments, higher teacher salaries and even higher administrative costs because larger districts need — and usually hire — more mid-level administrators.

Myth: Mandated consolidation would improve educational opportunities.

• The NEPC study concluded that even when consolidation produces a wider menu of educational experiences for students, evidence suggests that large schools and districts negatively affect desirable academic outcomes. It found ... longer bus rides, more dangerous school environments, lower graduation rates ... and larger achievement gaps related to poverty, race and gender.

Myth: Illinois has an inordinate number of school districts.

• A 2009 National Education Association report showed Illinois had 869 operating school districts, the fourth-most in the country behind Texas, California and Ohio. But Illinois also had the fifth-highest public school enrollment and tracked well with other similar states with the lone exception of Florida, which has one district per county.

Myth: The state knows best about issues like consolidation.

• The NEPC report found that statewide mandates always prove arbitrary and often prove unworkable and should be avoided. Local control remains an essential element of public school education. Not only do local citizens provide the majority of funding for public schools, they also know the local issues and have the most to lose. Schools often are the economic engines in many communities.

The NEPC report stated: “The vitality and well-being of communities may be the most dramatic result, if the one least discussed by politicians and education leaders. Put simply, the loss of a school erodes a community’s social and economic base — its sense of community, identity and democracy ...”

— Guest editorial from Dr. Brent Clark, executive director of the Illinois Association of School Administrators