Recent Years Show Mixed Record on School District Consolidation

Friday the Allegheny Institute participated in a hearing on school district mergers and consolidations to examine whether PA should downsize the total district count of 500 to something smaller and if such a downsizing would save money without affecting academic performance. The administration likes the number 100, but offered no real explanation as to why that number was selected. The bulk of the work on this matter would fall to an appointed commission to weigh the costs and benefits and determine a course of action.

A good place to start is to look at what other states with independent school districts (defined by the Census as districts with independently elected officials and not subordinate to some other governing body) have done with district counts in recent years, 1992-2002. Of the 45 states with independent districts, 9 saw an increase in the number of districts, 12 made no change in the time frame, and 24 reduced the number of districts, with four of those states (NE, MT, MA, and OR) making reductions that amounted in the neighborhood of 30% or so.

Naturally, questions arise: why did some states increase the district count? How did they do it? In states with reductions, were they voluntary, mandatory, or both? What did the changes do for non-instructional personnel counts and costs? Was there any effect on school performance or other aspects of education, such as travel, community pride, or advanced programs?

Pittsburgh Population Down Again

The just released Census Bureau 2008 population estimate for Pittsburgh shows yet another decline in the City’s resident count, continuing the trend of the last five decades. And right on cue, City officials are saying the decline is about over-something that also happens every year when the latest estimate is released.

Pittsburgh is not the biggest loser, with Cleveland’s and Baltimore’s losses much heftier. Still, at a time when most cities are growing, some dramatically, such as Raleigh and Austin, the Pittsburgh loss stands in stark contrast with the national performance. Even Erie had a small increase.

The timing of the population estimate release could not be more ironic. It comes the day after the City Council approved a five year financial plan that envisions still higher taxes and fees, the same taxes and fees that have been a major factor in the exodus of population and businesses.

To say the Council is out of touch with reality would be an understatement.