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?