Consolidate schools with incentives, not mandates
The main justification for school consolidation, according to advocates, is saving money. As a public school teacher, I can’t say that I disagree with that.
I see the possibility of savings in one area: school administrators.
When I was a young child attending elementary school, we had one principal and a head teacher. Both administrators would complete financial management, fixing buildings, making sure the district completed state reports, filed for reimbursements, and even deal with litigation, discipline and planning systems to support high need populations.
Fast forward to today, and there are assistants to each principal, plus house principals in middle schools, and so many secretaries and assistants to the assistant superintendents and superintendents of different educational areas such as curriculum and instruction and student services. Of course, it makes more sense to give a stipend to a teacher to take on vice principal responsibilities if they are willing to do it, rather than pay someone over $120,000. In this areas, the savings seem effective.
However, school consolidation usually makes use of larger schools. This results in an increase for a district’s transportation spending per pupil. Also, school consolidation may level up salaries and benefits to those of the most generous participating districts, thereby raising personnel costs. Additionally, according to an evidence-based article published in the National Tax Journal from 2016, “existing property-value studies do not indicate exactly which features of consolidation are negatively valued by households, but they do show that negatively-valued features exist.”
If consolidation was in fact cost effective, then the appropriate way to go about this would not be by force and decree of a commission, but by offering incentives to encourage towns to choose to do this. Connecticut government would probably find more support for consolidation if there were an incentive to seek it out.
Towns can decide if this is best for them and could seek partner districts that share similar goals or have resources that others are lacking. Connecticut residents cannot allow our autonomy to be compromised. Education is very personal to people, not to mention the large role it plays in determining property values.
This way of thinking, rather than force and decree, is similar to how some of my students learn best: Find something that motivates them to do something and, most likely, it will result in what you had hoped for. At the very least, policy should avoid perpetuating this process.
Drew Michael McWeeney, 23, works for the Waterbury Public School system as a preschool teacher.
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