The newly established New York Education Reform Commission is taking a hard look at school district mergers. Last week’s report on the Commission’s activities in Erie County (Buffalo) gave an indication of the initial target size for districts to be considered “violators” of what is presumably a guideline established for them by the Governor. That target is reportedly 3,000 students.
Forget about Erie County, what would a 3,000-student merger target portend for Long Island?
Total Districts = 56
Violators = 24
Total Districts = 65
Violators = 30
Total Districts = 121
Violators = 54
(Source NYSED 2011-12 PTRC)
The word, “violators” was applied to any district with less than 3,000 students, and is a direct quote from the Buffalo News report about the Governor’s Commission.
Locally, Wantagh would not be considered a “violator” with 3,446 students in 2011-125. But Wantagh’s enrollment, already trending downward, is projected to continue to decline through 2020. However, with only 2,568 students in 2011-12, Seaford could make the hit parade of “violators” in need of being merged. But let’s hold on a minute. The number one criterion for merging school districts is that prospective merger partners must be contiguous, meaning they must share a common border between them. So that would mean, in order for Seaford to cure its status as a “violator”, they will need a merger partner district with which they share a common border.
The Seaford School District shares borders with Levittown, Massapequa, and Wantagh. A case could be made to include Plainedge, but their shared border is the size of the shadow of the traffic light at the intersection of Hicksville Road and Jerusalem Avenue. Well, let’s not split hairs, and now we’ll compare neighboring districts as potential merger partners to help Seaford get out of trouble with the governor.
Smithtown….……....10.739…. (example of a large, high performing district)
Half Hollow Hills.........9,879…. (example of a large, high performing district)
Now, I am personally not a proponent of merging school districts, and I am not advocating these mergers, so please don’t shoot the messenger. But you can get a sense of where the Governor’s thinking may be leading. Fortunately, there is no constitutional or legal way for the State to force school district mergers without approval of the voters in the districts involved.
However, there is nothing preventing the state from changing the state aid formula to drive significantly more aid to districts that would agree to merge, and, to reduce aid to districts with enrollment below a target number (which may be a higher number than 3,000 students). There is also precedent for state incentives to convince districts and voters to approve actions to which they otherwise would not agree.
What I am personally in favor of is the administrative consolidation of “back of house” operations of groups of school districts. This plan would retain individual district identification and control of teaching, while creating 9-10 Administrative Districts in Nassau County each with a span of responsibility for approximately 20,000 students, handling all non-teaching operations.
Upon reading this you may dismiss the Governor’s Commission as an unlikely possibility. Or, perhaps my highlighting this topical issue will stimulate some thinking and lead to discussions among district leaders, and between districts and their own stakeholders.
* - The target enrollment number used in the actual written Commission Report to the Governor is 2,000, although the news report targeted 3,000 students. Regardless, no district can merge without another district to merge with.
Sourdce: Buffalo News Editorial http://www.buffalonews.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20130109/OPINION/130109319/1074