While most attempts to merge school districts in New York fail, high-level policymakers in Albany continue to mention them as a viable option for financially strapped communities, the New York State School Boards Association said in a report today that examines the pros and cons of consolidations.
The report said arguments in favor of mergers include reducing spending through economies of scale, receiving state reorganization aid, providing greater academic opportunities and expanding extracurricular activities. However, a number of recent studies have shown they don’t always save money. An Illinois State University analysis found that economies of scale are greatest for smaller districts; economies plateau and expenses increase with greater district complexity.
The incentive aid for school districts that merge amounts to a 40 percent hike in state aid for each of the first five years. The extra funding decreases 4 percentage points a year, starting with the sixth year, and it ends after 14 years.
Small school districts that consolidate can offer a wider variety of educational programs, courses and extracurricular activities than they could do on their own, particularly with the financial pressures the annual cap on the property-tax levy and limited state aid hikes. But cons can include a loss of community identity, longer bus rides, a potential tax increase, increased class size and salary hikes because the pay scale of the higher paying district is adopted for the new district.
“While there is no one clear path to a merger, in the end, decisions about mergers and consolidations should be made locally,” the the School Boards Association’s report concluded. “It is the students, parents, taxpayers and employees in the school district who are most affected. Their voices should be heard above those more distant voices in Albany.”
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