Education quality as well as costs should guide school mergers
The Board of Education has begun a review of schools for possible consolidations.
MEMBERS of the state Board of Education get nervous when the subject of school consolidation is brought up.
That's understandable. People become possessive of schools in their neighborhoods. Parents don't like the prospect of their children attending classes on an unfamiliar campus. Community groups fear losing places for their programs and meetings. Teachers and administrators are troubled by possible reassignments.
Nonetheless, periodic reviews of school enrollment and facilities are necessary to ensure that tax dollars are being spent effectively. An estimated $2 billion public education budget demands accountability.
The board last week began a review, as required by an administrative rule that is triggered when enrollment drops and classrooms lie vacant because of the decreases.
Maintenance and repairs eat up hundreds of millions of dollars and among the issues the board must consider is whether spreading tight funds between two schools or consolidating students into one might be the way to go. The board also has to weigh administrative costs of operating two schools in light of the number of students served.
However, cost isn't the only factor the board has to reconcile. Member Karen Knudsen told the Star-Bulletin's Alexandre Da Silva that "communities and educational issues" should be discussed as well. For example, schools with smaller enrollments and familiarity among teachers, children and parents might result in better learning environments.
The board is likely contemplating how a new formula to divvy up funding based on students' educational needs will work if there are fewer schools in competition. When the Weighted Student Formula was first worked out, smaller schools were faced with devastating cuts. A revised formula resulted in larger schools losing what they felt was an unfair share. The conflict finally sent the board and the Department of Education back to the drawing board. Consolidation might be playing a role in a final resolution.
The department, in identifying schools that could be consolidated, was careful to emphasize that the list merely contained examples. Still, some seemed predictable since they are located in long-established neighborhoods with fewer children.
As the board moves the review forward, there are sure to be objections to consolidation, but the public needs to look beyond the backyard. If merging under-populated schools would allow funds to flow to areas where schools are crowded, such as in Mililani and Kapolei, the board should take those steps.
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