According to The School Superintendents Association, school district consolidation is a pervasive occurrence across Ohio and throughout the United States. According to the article, there were 117,108 school districts nationwide that provided elementary and secondary educations in the 1939-40 school year. By the 2006-07 school year, that number was just 13,862, a decline of 88%. Though the rate of consolidation has slowed in recent years, it continues to occur. Why? What benefits does consolidation offer?
The AASA states that more school districts have policies in place that influence consolidation than those that do not. Incentives for consolidation include increased funding for operations and more capital for projects during the transition. According to the report, consolidation bonuses tend to be quite large, with some districts receiving an increase in aid of up to 40% for five years. After year five, aid declines until year nine. In addition to the consolidation bonus and increased aid, districts that consolidate receive up to a 30% increase in building aid for projects that commence within 10 years of the merge.
Upfront capital aside, districts expect consolidation benefits to come in the form of cost savings. In fact, savings is the main justification for consolidating schools. Though the verdict is still out as to whether or not consolidation actually saves schools money in the long run, supporters of the practice claim that consolidation reduces the cost of education per pupil. This is due to the theory of economy of size, which exists when the number of pupils goes up.
Economies of size could exist for many reasons. For one, by consolidating students into fewer districts, states or municipalities can reduce the number of superintendents, school nurses, etc. they must employ. Two, consolidation reduces the cost of overhead, which may include heating, science laboratories, sports equipment and other expenses. Three, larger districts tend to have more ability to hire more specialized teachers, which puts them in a better position to offer more advanced courses and exceed state requirements. Finally, governments presume that teachers in larger districts are more effective as they have more resources to draw from than those in smaller schools.
This article should not be construed as legal advice. It is for educational purposes only.