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Oklahoma governor eyes voluntary consolidations of school districts

Gov. Mary Fallin says she will encourage public school districts to consolidate or share administrative services. Oklahoma has 522 school districts in its 77 counties.
BY MICHAEL MCNUTT Modified: June 8, 2012 at 9:03 pm •  Published: June 8, 2012

— Public school districts will be encouraged in the upcoming months to consolidate or share administrative services in order to free up more money for the classroom, Gov. Mary Fallin said Friday.

Oklahoma has 522 school districts, and that's too many, Fallin told newspaper publishers and editors attending the Oklahoma Press Association's annual convention.

“It is time to have a debate about the structure of our school systems,” Fallin said. “I can't tell you what that debate will look like, but certainly to look at the funding, the sources, the needs, the growth. We have some school communities that are growing in population ... and we have other school districts that are losing population.”

Fallin said she isn't talking about forcing consolidation efforts.

“I support those who voluntarily want to share services, those who want to join school districts, and we've seen some of that over the past several years where districts have come together — some where it just makes sense.”

The Braman and Newkirk school districts are consolidating effective July 1, which will bring the number of districts down to 521, a state Education Department spokeswoman said.

Fallin said voluntary consolidations and shared services will be a part of the discussion on public schools, which she hopes to make a key point of her legislative agenda next year.

“We've heard from a lot of people this year about education, and we want to continue to make that a priority,” she said. “It's important for economic development.”

Fallin said she is concerned about the high number of high school graduates in the state who are required to take remedial courses in college because they lack the knowledge to take college courses.

“We have statistics that show that many of our students take five to six years to get through college,” she said. “One of the reasons is because they aren't prepared when they start that freshman year in college to do the basic coursework of math and writing and science skills. They have to take those remedial courses and delay starting their true college coursework.”

Public schools are to receive $2.3 billion in the 2013 fiscal year, which starts July 1, That's about 33 percent of the legislatively appropriated budget of $6.8 billion.

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