Letter to the editor: Consolidation doesn’t assure savings or better student outcomes
The two main selling points for school unification are lowering school costs and improving student performance by providing a wider experience. We have no guarantees that this will happen. Research actually shows the opposite. West Virginia decided to force school consolidation all at once through the entire state. The results: increased school costs and declining student performance. So after the unified school board closes enough of our local schools, if we end up with still higher property taxes and lower student performance, we will be stuck with lots of empty buildings and a bloated supervisory union office.
I spent 10 years on the New Haven School Board. During that time I watched as the superintendent slowly whittled away at what control we had. In the beginning we signed all the payorders, which gave us the opportunity to check on spending. At some point the superintendent decided that she would take over that duty. I also sat in on several teacher contract negotiations. We held face-to-face meetings with the teachers where we got to hear their concerns. The meetings were always professional and unconfrontational. In the end we reached mutual agreements that satisfied all sides. During my last year on the board I discovered at the very last minute that board members would let a lawyer do all the talking. It was a great embarrassment to sit silently in front of a roomful of teachers begging us to respond. We did reach a contract settlement but left behind an air of distrust.
Why have an elected school board when we can pay someone else to do the job? Also in my last term the superintendent began hawking the concept of “policy governance,” which was another way to remove board members from closer involvement in the school. That idea came out at the same time as various boards around the country were missing serious management problems. Now we have a single bloated board that is the farthest removed from our schools.
There are three main elements to education: parents, students and teachers. Those are the people that will have the most impact on our children’s education. And yet the decisions are being made by unelected individuals that are the most removed from the students, and who do no teaching.
Before we wade too deeply into the unified school district quagmire I think it is time to take a deeper look into the entire supervisory district model. How much is it costing us? Is it producing results? Are there tasks that can be done at the local level? How can a small school direct the supervisory office to do what the town wants rather than having the office dictate to us? We also need to come up with a fallback plan if unification doesn’t work. We should be putting all school closings off until we have more information, or we should be actively planning how to withdraw from the union altogether.
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