With a record number of school districts sinking into a deficit, and two districts possibly on their way to being dissolved, state Superintendent Mike Flanagan is urging drastic action — such as converting Michigan’s nearly 550 districts, 56 intermediate districts and nearly 280 charter schools into countywide school districts.
If that can’t be done right away, he said, the state should give more power to intermediate school districts so operations such as transportation and food services can be consolidated.
Flanagan predicted that countywide districts or his hybrid option could save millions — money he said could be used to teach students. But little, if any, research supports his position, a fact that’s drawing concern from educators and others. [As schools slide into the red, could it be time for countywide districts? Detroit Free Press, July 7, 2013 (emphasis added).]Don Wotruba, deputy director of the Michigan Association of School Boards, told the Free Press he was skeptical of a one-size-fits-all proposal such as this.
What Flanagan is suggesting could take Michigan in one of two directions:
■ The state could eliminate its local school districts and organize schools by county — there are 83 counties in the state — or by intermediate school district. So a county such as Oakland, with 28 individual school districts and 28 individual superintendents, would become one district with one superintendent and 180,274 students.
■ A hybrid option would place more power with the state’s intermediate school districts by transferring all non-instructional services — such as transportation, business and food service — to the ISDs. Local school districts would focus solely on instruction. The ISDs, for instance, would handle transportation for the entire county, rather than each district having a transportation department. Eventually, some instructional services would be handled at the county level, too, Flanagan said.
Marcus Napthen, an English teacher at Belleville High School, said he doesn’t think countywide districts are the way to go, but he’s open to the idea of consolidating certain services — such as transportation — at the county level.
But instead of a state mandate, he said, counties should be allowed to determine how they can best share services so districts can maintain local control.
“The school is the center of the community,” Napthen said. [Id.]The Free Press article also notes research which would counsel against mass consolidation. The research affirms that consolidating small districts would create efficiencies and save money. However, consolidating already large districts into even larger districts would make them costlier to run.
There is anecdotal evidence that case-by-case consolidation probably makes sense for some districts. Ypsilanti and Willow Run both had lost students and were operating under deficits. This summer they are consolidating and hope to expand offerings and balance the books of the combined district. In the case of Ypsilanti and Willow Run, local voters made the choice to consolidate, rather then have the decision made at the state level. With Ypsilanti and Willow Run school districts merger, longer days and longer calendar will be the formula to revive fortunes. MLive.com, July 12, 2013.
Schools in Meridian Township are already working together to share costs and create efficiencies while still maintaining individual identities and local control:
[Superintendent of the Ingham Intermediate District Stan] Kogut said Okemos Public Schools is coordinating foods services for several county school districts and Haslett Public Schools is providing business and technology services for the Williamston Community Schools.
But some mid-Michigan school experts caution there are downsides with centralizing services, including busing. Tom Goodwin, a former Grand Ledge assistant superintendent and now an education consultant, said merging school bus garages on a countywide basis could mean some buses would be driven longer distances as they go from one end of the county to the other. In addition to higher mileage, there may be higher costs for maintenance. [Amid schools debate, area schools are already pooling resources, Lansing State Journal, July 9, 2013.]