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Consolidating school districts

The Chron’s Texas Politics blog has been running a feature called “Chopping Block”, in which it solicits suggestions from the audience about possible ways the stats could save a few bucks, then explores what the effect would be. As you might imagine, the suggestions run a gamut of practicality and desirability. This is one that’s likely to be taken seriously.

Jim Wiechkoske suggested consolidating the state’s school districts, which are now mostly organized by cities, into county-based districts.

Rep. Fred Brown, R-Bryan, has filed a bill that would do exactly that. HB 106 would make the state’s school district boundaries match county lines, essentially having one school district per county. That’d make 254 school districts in Texas – we currently have 1,030.

Debbie Ratcliffe, a spokeswoman for the Texas Education Agency, said consolidating school districts would be an incredible undertaking.

“Many of our school districts overlap counties, so there’d be some issue with how you’d handle that,” Ratcliffe said. “But if you assume that the district would go into whatever county where the home administration office is in, we’re estimating there’d be about $1 billion in savings.”

[...]

“Politically, it has long been considered one of the third rails of Texas politics,” [Richard] Kouri [of the Texas State Teachers Association] said, nothing rural school districts would be targeted first. He said in some measure it’s about local control but added, “Politically, it’s about local identity. It’s kind of about what keeps small towns and small communities going.”

Here’s a list of school districts by county. It’s not hard to look at this and think there ought to be some savings in there. Why it is (for example) that Archer County (2010 population 9,054) needs three ISDs, or why Bosque County (pop. 18,212) needs eight of them, I couldn’t say. Judging by their names, I’d guess each of these ISDs corresponds to a town within these counties, which speaks to the “local identity” Kouri mentions. I’ll feel sad if these small towns lose a piece of their identities, but again this would be entirely consistent with what they have been voting for, so I won’t lose too much sleep over it.

Really, the place where I’d expect to see truly fierce resistance will be from the high-end school districts. I can’t imagine Bexar’s Alamo Heights ISD, Dallas’ Highland Park ISD, or Galveston’s Friendswood ISD (just to name three) being terribly happy at the thought of getting lumped with their countymates. And while there may be some efficiencies to be gained by combining smaller districts, I have a hard time believing that consolidating all 20 Harris County ISDs into one ginormous mass would represent a step forward. So while I expect HB106 to get some attention, I’m not sure that it will get very far, and I’m even less sure that it should.

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9 Comments

  1. martha says:

    They are going to have to consider something like this if the Lege cuts all of the regional service centers, which is on the table. The issue with rural school districts is that they have small central admin staff which cannot provide all of the services a school district needs, such as curriculum writing for the new science TEKS, training on STAAR, training on accountability and data, etc. They lean heavily on their regional service centers to do many of the things large districts have “in house” in central admin. If small school districts banded together, they might be better able to staff a central admin support system to all of the many issues surrounding curriculum and accountability.

  2. We just built a brand new high school in my town of about 1,000 (but with a large rural area), and have a relatively new elementary. People in this county don’t want one county school. The current system is actually better than the consolidation idea however, small districts do depend on the regional service centers which I hate to see taken apart also. We’ve been getting what we voted for so I hope Republicans lose a lot of districts over this.

  3. Ron in Houston says:

    Another probably good idea that will likely never happen. I know I bought property in a specific school district and would resist the idea of merging it with other school districts.

    I think government consolidation to reduce overhead is generally a good idea. For instance I really support getting constables out of the law enforcement market and consolidating all that in the the Sheriff’s department.

  4. Jeb says:

    Interesting. That’s a huge savings. I wonder if the bill’s chances would improve if it was amended to apply only to counties with less than 1 million population.

  5. Blair in West Texas says:

    Not a bad idea for East Texas where towns are close; horrible idea for my part of the world where students would loaded on buses before dawn and unloaded after dusk. A reasonable approach should include consideration for the distance the students will have to travel.

  6. Greg says:

    Many small districts in metro areas are dominated by a neighboring large district which would likely take the lead. The large district pays teacher $10000 a year more than several surrounding small districts. They are also big on bureacracy. Many Asst. Supers. Deputy this and that. Small districts transformed would pay more in teacher salaries, probably not change Principals (but again increased pay compared to the small district), make small Supers (making $80,000) into large Asst. Supers (again, likely higher pay, maybe $100,00), more counselors, and more curriculum oversight.

    Where is the savings?

    The federal government is larger than state governments – did it become more efficient??

  7. Tyrone says:

    I cannot speak for all school districts in Texas but it is difficult to feel sorry for any of the school districts. I live in the Northside ISD in San Antonio and they are the biggest bunch of whining spendthrifts.

    Of their $1 billion dollar-plus budget per annum, over $100 million dollars is flushed down the toilet in financing costs alone. Bond elections are held every couple of years like clockwork and systematically on a subtle Saturday in May to double guarantee success.

    The cost per pupil’s education in the NISD is over $8K a year while in the neighboring district of Medina Valley the next county over it costs $4K per pupil.

    In 2007 & 2008, NISD literally was burning and wasting money by giving every returning employee at the beginning of the school year a 1% “back to work” bonus for remaining with NISD as if the majority had somewhere else to go work.

    Through the eyes of this NISD resident, I see continued waste of taxpayer resources and couldn’t care less if the entire district collapsed. Consolidating ALL of the school districts in this state would save the school system billions of dollars and eliminate the need for the redundancy of bureaucrats and other staffers that merely suck in a paycheck because someone likes having them around.

    To merely accept the fact that government bureaucracies, which includes the school system, are inherently inefficient no long cuts it. The kids in the less populated Medina Valley school district not only get an education for half the cost of that in NISD but the quality is just as good AND they even have a 4H club.

    In the NISD, they have built schools that cost north of $70 million dollars with a pupil ceiling of only 3500 along with other fluff like a $40 million dollar aquatic center. As cuts are being pondered by the legislature, the NISD is whining that they must ponder DRASTIC cuts of $15 million this year and $30 million next year which is a pittance considering the massive levels of waste in their budget.

    To date, no on in NISD’s slow moving leadership staff has even remotely considered delaying some of the low priority projects and instead of focuses on layoffs, etc. The whole thing is a joke and reflects poorly on this district.

  8. I agree with Jeb. I also wonder where the savings would come in – I’d be interested in reading specifics. Is it in the links? (sorry to be lazy today)

  9. [...] Brown is the same guy who’s pushing school district consolidation, in case that affects your opinion of it. I for one see no reason to expand the SBOE’s scope [...]

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