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Kurt Strazdins/MCT

Kurt Strazdins, KRT

Rethink Minnesota school district consolidations

  • Article by: KIRK SCHNIEDAWIND
  • July 31, 2013 - 10:44 AM

Counterpoint

The Star Tribune Editorial Board’s call for more consolidation among smaller school districts was overreaching and ignored many efficiently run small districts around the state (“Joining forces for efficient education,” July 26).

The writers should visit a few of the 182 school systems with fewer than 1,000 students. Quality schools don’t happen because of size alone. Quality schools happen with strong parent involvement, dedicated administrators, committed school board members, and good teachers — the components of many school districts in the state — large or small.

If there is one thing the editorial writers were correct about when talking about smaller districts, it’s that they’ve had a long history of pairing and sharing to keep the same extracurricular activities and sports that larger schools offer.

They share administrators, and cooperate in programs and curriculum development. In fact, 25 school districts in southwest Minnesota formed a consortium that offers similar calendars, shared resources for teachers, business officials, and superintendents.

Success for students isn’t an either-or proposition. Moving to a large school doesn’t give a student any more chance of success than a smaller school. The editorial also questioned the quality of education students receive at small schools. But a simple look at reading or math scores from the state shows that many smaller schools had students outperforming larger schools. The state’s Blue Ribbon Schools include several districts with fewer than 1,000 students.

Many studies show that parental involvement improves student achievement. Other studies show that smaller class sizes are effective. Smaller schools have a wealth of parental participation. Many schools are also attractive because they offer smaller class sizes, and more opportunity to work one-on-one with a teacher.

Making a decision to consolidate is complex and, in some cases, it doesn’t make sense. An example would be if South Koochiching (an under 1,000 student enrollment district) was forced to consolidate with its neighbor, Littlefork-Big Falls School District. The consolidation of two districts that large in area would end up with some students facing a two-plus-hour bus ride each way. The tax bases of different districts might be so far apart that consolidation would force half of the district to pay much more in taxes. And trust has to be developed among the people in both districts, which takes time.

Saying more small schools should consolidate is just as ridiculous as saying more large schools should be divided. One important factor that would help all school districts is stable, equitable and predictable state funding, which allows for long-term planning and program development. We believe our citizens and locally elected school board members are smart. They know how to run schools efficiently. They know what programs and resources are needed to help kids achieve. And they know when it’s time to cooperate, share or consolidate. They also know that many small schools are some of the best in the state.

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Kirk Schniedawind  is executive director of the Minnesota School Boards Association.

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