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Her assignment: use the merger to save money and improve performance in the new district, which housed schools that had produced some of the lowest test scores in the state for years. With only a month to prepare before the start of the school year, there were few cost-cutting measures Dace could undertake without igniting a firestorm in the community.And hardly anything changed: “No schools were closed, nothing was rezoned,” Dace said.“Basically my transportation director just joined both [bus] fleets.” So that first year of consolidation, the district didn’t save any money.
Since 2012, nearly a dozen Mississippi districts have been ordered to merge, many of them small and low-performing.
The hope is that larger districts, with larger schools, can be more cost-efficient and offer more classes, resources, and opportunities for students, including extracurricular activities.
Indeed, a 2013 report from the Washington-based Center for American Progress found that small schools often have “higher overhead costs” because they must provide teachers, resources, and courses regardless of the number of students.
Research also suggests that impoverished regions in particular often benefit from smaller schools and districts, and they can suffer irreversible damage if consolidation occurs.
For these reasons, decisions to deconsolidate or consolidate districts are best made on a case-by-case basis.
While state-level consolidation proposals may serve a public relations purpose in times of crisis, they are unlikely to be a reliable way to obtain substantive fiscal or educational improvement. — When Debra Dace took the reins of the Sunflower Consolidated School District on July 1, 2014, she was handed a budget and three failing school districts that the state had recently merged into one.Arguments for consolidation, which merges schools or districts and centralizes their management, rest primarily on two presumed benefits: (1) fiscal efficiency and (2) higher educational quality.The extent of consolidation varies across states due to their considerable differences in history, geography, population density, and politics.Because economic crises often provoke calls for consolidation as a means of increasing government efficiency, the contemporary interest in consolidation is not surprising.However, the review of research evidence detailed in this brief suggests that a century of consolidation has already produced most of the efficiencies obtainable.