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Informed Discussion on Consolidation

July 29, 2012

Rural schools are necessarily inefficient.

Read that statement again; it’s not a slam on rural schools. It’s just a statement of fact. If a school has 30 seniors every year, the cost of educating students ends up being higher on a per pupil basis. Add to that the higher transportation costs and other associated expenses that come with being located in remote areas, and this simple fact is exacerbated.

Today, the Oklahoman ran a feature on the difficulties in the state pursuing consolidation from a policy perspective. In this respect, they have the issue right. So many legislators represent at least one small, rural district, that consolidation is tantamount to political suicide. And as you know, our elected leaders don’t exactly qualify for the sequel to Profiles in Courage.

Some districts have consolidated in recent years because of lagging funding from the state. They simply can’t continue operating. In public sector terms, they have gone out of business.

In western Oklahoma, many of the smaller districts get so much of their funding from ad valorem taxes from oil and gas that they wouldn’t necessarily feel the pinch from the loss of state aid and have to close down.

Another issue raised in the feature is the average salary of superintendents. Similarly, a story in the Tulsa World yesterday questioned the practice by many districts in the area of providing cars for superintendents. These are local decisions made to attract and keep top area leaders. I see a number of inconsistencies in salaries across the state, and I question the wisdom of providing cars for administrators, but these aren’t the decisions crippling school funding.

The Oklahoman also draws comparisons to Arkansas and Oregon. They do not mention why those two states are good exemplars for Oklahoma, but Arkansas has gone through a huge overhaul to its education system in the last decade. The results were twofold – fewer districts, and more total spending for education. Even if the legislature, state superintendent, and governor could agree on a consolidation plan, the more spending part would never happen.

This is a serious conversation that needs to happen, but it needs a foundation in reality. Leaders from urban and suburban areas need to spend meaningful time in rural communities and schools to gain an understanding of what the challenges are in these areas. Only then will they have some perspective about how their decisions might impact children.

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  1. July 29, 2012 at 1:13 pm

    I was told a church this morning that I was quoted in the Oklahoman but have not had a chance to read it. I hope they used my statement that our rural schools tend to out perform urban and metro schools. I will check it out. Ed

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  2. Stacey
    July 29, 2012 at 1:32 pm

    Thank you, Mr. Cannaday. Your comment about the success of rural schools is exactly what I thought was missing from this article.

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  3. Judith
    July 29, 2012 at 10:31 pm

    I think they should look at consolidating admin services, but leave the schools open. If OKC can have one Superintendent over 50K (?) students, why can’t a rural county have one over 15K students? If that’s not logistically possible, then at least consolidate among schools in a region.

    I thought the comparisons to AR and OR were curious. What wasn’t mentioned was the number of students served in each state.

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  1. April 19, 2013 at 5:51 pm
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