Akron Beacon Journal: Ohio school merge-mathics


First Posted: 8/7/2011

Ohio has nearly 2 million schoolchildren in 614 districts, ranging in size from a few square miles to almost an entire county. In many cases, boundary lines drawn in the last century don't follow those of municipalities, townships or counties. Enrollment varies from less than 500 to more than 50,000.Across the state, students in some district pay for sports and other activities and go without classes in special subjects such as art and music while those in adjoining districts pay no extra fees and enjoy a wider range of academic offerings.John Kasich is willing to look for a better way, the governor rightly asking the state legislature to create a commission to study school consolidation as a way to save money and improve academic performance. For decades, the subject has been taboo, state officials fearing the backlash from school officials and voters. When the issue came up during last year's campaign, Kasich's spokesman said he was interested in districts sharing services, not merging completely.Thankfully, as governor, Kasich appears to have changed his mind. Ohio's stagnant population growth, tight budgets at the state and local levels and unimpressive test scores argue strongly for a thorough, dispassionate analysis.Districts are already seeing the benefits of sharing services and joining purchasing pools for supplies and health insurance. The Orrville and Rittman districts set a fine example three years ago. They now share a superintendent, treasurer and a number of services, saving $300,000 a year, the money directed to the classroom.The challenge for Kasich's commission is to sort out competing claims for what is possible on a statewide basis. In a report last year, the Brookings Institution and the Greater Ohio Policy Center found Ohio near the bottom when it comes to the share of education spending that goes for instruction, and near the top in the share for administration.The report recommended reducing the number of districts to around 400, setting off a storm of protest. Three statewide education groups, representing school boards and school district business officials and administrators countered with a report by education policy experts William Driscoll and Howard Fleeter. They criticized the Brookings study for not offering more concrete evidence of savings from school district consolidation in Ohio. School business officials questioned the assumption that mergers would produce substantial savings.Kasich deserves credit for his willingness to revisit the issue. The challenge for the commission is to explore carefully the facts to establish the hard evidence Driscoll and Fleeter wanted to see, the numbers on the savings that can be achieved.In the end, the goal must be to put the interest of students first, directing any savings to elevate the educational achievement of all children in Ohio.