Gov. Mary Fallin says she wants to make school district consolidation a key point in her legislative agenda next year, with an emphasis on voluntary measures and encouragement for districts to share administrative services.
It remains to be seen whether she will be more successful than other public officials who have suggested in recent years that cutting back on the number of school districts in Oklahoma could allow more money to be used for classroom instruction rather than administration and overhead.
State schools Superintendent Janet Barresi sees consolidation as a local issue.
“No matter what I think about it, I think it's something that needs to be driven by teachers and the parents and the school boards in the individual districts,” Barresi said.
The difficulty in adequately funding the state's 521 school districts may force the issue.
“We're getting to that point where push is getting ready to come to shove, and districts are going to have to make some pretty tough decisions,” she said.
State Sen. Harry Coates, R-Seminole, has been thinking about school consolidation for years.
He represents District 28, which includes Seminole County and its 10 school districts.
“I think every county in Oklahoma has too many schools, not just Seminole County,” Coates said. “I think we have more districts than we need.
“You're going to have to school every kid somewhere. Preserve the community, but combine administration and transportation costs. Centralize it.”
The state's School Consolidation Assistance Fund acts as an incentive for consolidation.
The assistance fund currently has more than $6 million. If districts consolidate, the new district can receive up to $500,000.
“If two districts share the costs of one superintendent, there are real efficiencies to be gained,” Speaker Pro Tem Jeff Hickman, R-Fairview, said. “Some districts have already tried that and I think it's a good tool to have available.”
No matter what I think about it, I think it's something that needs to be driven by teachers and the parents and the school boards in the individual districts. We're getting to that point where push is getting ready to come to shove, and districts are going to have to make some pretty tough decisions.”