Another cry for school consolidation (Capitol Updates)

Steve Lewis served as Speaker of the Oklahoma House of Representatives from 1989-1991. He currently practices law in Tulsa and represents clients at the Capitol. You can sign upĀ on his website to receive theĀ Capitol Updates newsletter by email.

Photo by Dean Hochman / CC BY 2.0
Photo by Dean Hochman / CC BY 2.0

Sen. Patrick Anderson, R-Enid, who will serve his last year in the legislature next year because of term limits, has proposed a school consolidation plan for next session. Anderson’s plan is to eliminate all current school districts by the year 2020 and create one school district for each county. He says the plan would save $40 million in administrative costs.

If we have a problem with school district size, the question should be how can we do it better, not just how can we do it cheaper. It may be that some districts are too small and some are too large to give students the best possibility for success. But it is unlikely that simply using the county lines to designate school districts is the best way to re-structure schools.

For as long as I can remember, the cry for school consolidation has been used to complain that public schools are inefficient and wasteful. People have been conditioned to believe that we have plenty of money for schools, but it’s just not being spent properly. “Administrative waste” because of too many school districts is low hanging fruit for that point of view.

It makes sense that school district boundaries may not be in the right places. They were created many years ago, and population changes, sometimes dramatically. People generally are proud of their local district and are reluctant to change its geography. So consolidation is one of those things about which it’s hard to have a rational discussion. With all the other problems facing the state, I wouldn’t expect the legislature to take it on next year.

School district size, structure, culture and efficiency are issues that could help our schools be better and make funding more equitable. These issues remind me of military base realignment at the federal level. Maybe one way to approach it would be for the legislature to set up a commission to bring a plan back to them for an up or down vote. The right leadership politically, and on such a commission, might get something accomplished. If nothing else, it would be a good thing to help take away “administrative bloat” as an issue for our schools. And we might find a way to have better schools.

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Steve Lewis served as Speaker of the Oklahoma House of Representatives from 1989-1990. He currently practices law in Tulsa and represents clients at the Capitol.

4 thoughts on “Another cry for school consolidation (Capitol Updates)

  1. Why do some continue to try to resurrect systems of the past that didn’t work then and won’t work now? In the very near past there were county superintendents with dismal results. I also continue to be amazed at the Republican agenda. They want to scream “local control” “local control” and yet continually try to force consolidation. Why can’t they be honest and say they want to get out of the school business? or better admit the real issue is urban versus rural? I guess it is the same men who claim to know Jesus Christ and continually fail to meet the needs of the very poor in Oklahoma. I guess they fail to realize the truth. At some point they will be held accountable!

  2. A county plan is crazy for counties with large urban or suburban areas/current districts. From my suburban perspective, consolidating administrative duties for two or three tiny districts, while keeping the individual schools open, is a possibility that might deserve consideration. In the computer age, purchasing, food services, payroll and insurance, federal and state reporting, personnel services, and other such functions could easily be administered centrally, for several small districts. Kids would not have to ride buses for any longer than they do already, each community could still have its own school and programs, but lunch menus might be the same in the rival district!

  3. Why is there no conversation on consolidating our two legislative branches into one and saving taxpayers dollars?

  4. consolidation has nothing to do with saving money its about control. education became very costly in ark. after consolidation. many bonds passed to buy land and build new buildings after years of schooling in portable buildings. when there are 5 schools within 30 mile of each other there are 5 debate teams 5 ball teams . these children grow up thinking their somebody. they get more one on one instruction. they are use to being heard. they need to be in one school where they don’t make the ball team, debate team, are not so popular and have less confidence. then they want grow up and show up at the state capital an protest . they also will be easier to control in the work place . they accept being poor, giving more, and ask for and expect less. i believe proverbs states the rich shall rule over the poor. ok congress believes in helping the rich attend private schools and keep the poor in their place.

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