In Oklahoma, school leaders are getting creative with how they reduce their number of districts, such as finding ways to use the buildings and resources at various schools that have been shut down. The state is slowly making changes from its early days of having a school house every nine miles or so.
Annexations and consolidations are similar in that they both result in having one less school district. There are several ways this can be done:
• Annexation: A district is dissolved and its students move to another district. This can be a voluntary move or it can be mandated by the state Education Department. If a school board feels the district is not able to operate for the next school year, either because of low funding or student population, it must make a request to the Education Department for annexation by the first Monday in July.
Mandatory annexations result from issues such as funding, low student population or low academic performance. This has only happened eight times since 1977, for which the most recent information on forced annexations in the state is available. When the Education Department decides to annex a school, it must notify parents and guardians of all the students, and boundary lines must be redrawn to divide the annexed district. Students may choose which district to transfer to, and their requests must be honored whenever possible. Assets and liabilities of the annexed district will be absorbed by the annexing district or districts.
• Consolidation: Two or more districts combine into a new district with a new district number and a new name, which is often hyphenated to reflect the districts that merged. A new school building may be built, or students from the smaller district or districts might move to the larger district. The annexing or consolidating district may request up to $500,000 from the School Consolidation Assistance Fund to help with the transition, such as buying new textbooks and resources, or making building accommodations.
A feasibility study by the Education Department is the first step in a voluntary consolidation. This can be done by a school board resolution in one of the districts or a petition that is signed by at least 10 percent of school personnel in one of the districts. The next step is to pass a resolution in one of the school boards or obtain petition signatures from at least 40 percent of registered voters in both districts. Then the consolidation must be approved by a countywide general election.
The state superintendent should meet with the boards of both districts involved, and the boards should present a plan for merging the two groups.
• Teacher status because of annexation or consolidation: According to state law, teachers' contracts do not have to be honored if their school is closed due to annexation or consolidation. If the process takes place midyear, teachers can keep their job through that school year. If the new school board elects to keep a building open from the annexed or consolidated district, all teachers in that building will keep their current position.
Sources: School Annexation and Consolidation: 2009, Education Department spokeswoman Vivian Baber
Annexation vs. consolidation