What happens if students leave? In 2008, 8% of the students left the Washington D.C. school district after several schools were consolidated. Five years later they are looking at closing even more schools. What does that mean for Fayette County? If we lose 1% of our students, in total, that would be approximately 200 students. $4500 * 200 = $900,000 in state funding. 8% would be 8 times that number or $7.2 million. When school board officials authorize the superintendent to close schools and redistrict students, they are making large scale changes. These changes can be the impetus for parents to consider other options they may not have thought of before. They might think… we have to change schools and say goodbye to many of our school friends. I don’t want to have to do that again in a few years. Since we have to change schools this might be a great time to try private school or home school. In the final analysis we would have lost more money that we tried to gain in closing schools.
Posted: January 31, 2013
Last Updated: June 01, 2003
Consolidation proponents often argue that consolidating schools and/or districts will lower per pupil costs. But a stream of studies over half a century casts doubts on this assumption.
Many consolidation decisions are justified in part on projected cost savings. These projections are based on standard economic theory regarding "economies of scale. Theoretically, certain fixed costs -- such as the number of administrators or the amount spent on utilities -- do not increase, and may even decrease, when the number of students in a school or district increases with consolidation. With more students and the same or lower costs, the total cost per student should come down. Some analysts and many consolidation proponents accept as an article of faith that larger schools and larger districts have lower costs per pupil than smaller ones.
But the relationship between size and cost is not that clear, as the many studies reveal:
Why do costs increase with consolidation, and what kinds of costs increase?
Projected cost savings from consolidation are either temporary or illusory because lower costs in some expenditure categories are often offset by higher costs in other areas.
Streifel's study noted above is revealing. He analyzed the expenditure patterns before and after consolidation for six expenditure categories (administration, instruction, transportation, operation and maintenance, total cost, and capital costs). Of these six, only savings in "administrative costs" was related to consolidation at a statistically significant level. Consolidated districts increased administrative costs 10 percent while the average cost increase was 31 percent. Although this relationship was statistically significant, the relationship was not uniform. In three of the 19 consolidation cases, including one of the Arkansas districts, the district administrative costs actually increased more than the state average.
But what might have been saved in administrative costs was often more than offset by increases in other costs. As a result, although not statistically significant, total costs per pupil actually increased more in the 19 consolidating districts than statewide average increases (32% compared to 29%), including in three of the five Arkansas districts.
It is interesting that in the category of "instruction costs" (where one might expect any savings from lower administrative costs to be shifted in the interest of educational quality improvement) the increases in spending in the 19 consolidating districts were actually lower than the state average increases in spending (25% compared to 29% overall, and in 11 of the 19 districts individually).
And significantly, Streifel found that whether a consolidation proved fiscally advantageous or disadvantageous with respect to a particular expenditure category did not depend on how big the consolidating districts or the resulting consolidated districts were.
Consolidation and Equity
Valencia (1984) also concluded from this literature search that schools with large percentages of low-income and minority students have experienced most of the closings in five major cities, and that the school closings reduced parental involvement in children's education and decreased public support for educational bond levies. These impacts raise significant equity issues. In Phoenix, a federal court agreed with plaintiffs who filed a lawsuit claiming that consolidation decisions unfairly selected a minority school for closing. The court ruled that the plaintiffs "have a right to expect that the administration of the schools of this city will be done fairly, without discrimination or undue adverse impact to any particular segment of the student population."
Reasons Why Consolidation May Impose Fiscal Hardships
Numerous reasons have been suggested for the increased costs or reduced revenues that may result from consolidation (Sher and Tompkins 1977):
Some of these changes may result in improved school performance. Some clearly do not.
The Fiscal Impacts of the Socio-Economic Effects of Consolidation
The socio-economic impact of schools on communities is significant, and school closures reduce the fiscal capacity of local communities to provide support for education.
Lyson (2002) analyzed data from all 352 incorporated villages and towns with populations of under 2,500 in New York State, almost all of which had had a school at one time. He compared the 71 places with 500 or fewer people with the 281 with more than 500 people. Almost three-fourths of the larger group had a school (73.7%), while only about half (52.1%) of the smaller group did. Those with and without schools in each of the size categories had similar age level profiles, percent of households with children, and percent of children enrolled in school, but the economic and fiscal capacity of the communities without schools was much lower than that of the communities with schools. Among the smaller size grouping of towns and villages:
An earlier similar study reached similar conclusions. Dreier and Goudy (1994) compared population changes in incorporated Iowa towns that had or did not have a high school. Half the communities with a high school gained a significant amount (5 percent or more) of population over 2 or more decades while three-fourths of communities without a high school were losing population. They concluded that a community without a high school loses population faster than all communities losing population during the same time period.
Sederberg (1987) studied the secondary economic impacts of school districts in six rural Minnesota counties and found:
Finally, Petkovich and Ching (1977) examined changes in retail sales and total labor supply that could be expected if the local high school in an agricultural community in Nevada were closed. An input-output model constructed from survey data predicted that closing the high school would produce an eight percent decrease in retail sales and a six percent decrease in labor supply.
School and school district consolidation produces fewer fiscal benefits and more fiscal costs than is popularly believed. Administrative cost savings are most likely, but these savings may often be largely offset by other cost increases, especially for transportation. Consolidating schools can also adversely affect the local economy, reducing the fiscal capacity of the school district. These costs are disproportionately imposed on poor and minority communities.
Dreier, William H.; Goudy, Willis (1994). "Is There Life in Town after the Death of the High School?" or High Schools and the Population of Midwest Towns. Paper presented at the Annual Rural and Small Schools Conference, Manhattan, KS, Oct 24, 1994.
Eyre, Eric, and Scott Finn (2002). Closing Costs: School Consolidation in West Virginia. Series on the costs of school consolidation running August 25 and 30, September 8, 12. 24, and 29, and October 3 and 6, 2002.
Hirsch, W.Z. (1960). Determinants of Public Education Expenditure. National Tax Journal, 13(1), pp 29-40.
Jewell, R.W. (1989). School and School District Size Relationships. Education and Urban Society, Feb 1989, pp. 140-153.
Kennedy, Robert L. et al. "Expenditures, MAT6 Scores, and Dropout Rates: A Correlational Study of Arkansas School Districts," ERIC Accession No. ED303910, Jan. 1989.
Lyson, Thomas A. (2002). What Does a School Mean to a Community? Assessing the Social and Economic Benefits of Schools to Rural Villages in New York. Department of Rural Sociology
Cornell University, Ithaca, New York.
Petkovich, M. D., & Ching, C. T. K. (1977). Some Educational and Socio-Economic Impacts of Closing a High School in a Small Rural Community. Reno, NV: Agricultural Experiment Station, Max C. Fleischmann College of Agriculture, University of Nevada.
Sederberg, C. H. (1987). Economic Role of School Districts in Rural Communities. Research in Rural Education, 4(3), 125-130.
Sher, J.P. and Tompkins, R.B. (1977). Economy, Efficiency, and Equality: The Myths of Rural School and District Consolidation. In J. P. Sher (ed.), Education in Rural America (pp. 43-77). Boulder, CO: Westview Press.
Streifel, James S, Foldesy, George, and Holman, David M. (1991). The Financial Effects of Consolidation. Journal of Research in Rural Education; v7 n2 p13-20, ERIC No. EJ424923.
Valencia, Richard R. (1984). School Closures and Policy Issues. Policy Paper No. 84-C3, ERIC No. ED323040.
In A Place Called School, John Goodlad (1984) concluded that the burden of proof is on large size. Data from a study he conducted demonstrated that the smallest schools were
better at solving their problems, more intellectually oriented, and had more caring teachers and greater parent and student satisfaction. “It is not impossible to have a good large school,”
Goodlad observed, “it is simply more difficult” (p. 309).
As a result of his study of New Jersey high schools, W. J. Fowler reached a similar conclusion. He noted that student outcomes are more favorable in smaller public schools, and also in smaller districts (Fowler 1989).
Twenty-five years earlier, Roger Barker and Paul Gump, in Big School, Small School (1964), contended that a school should be small enough that all of its students feel needed and, in fact, are needed to make the school work. As a result, students' school lives have more sense and meaning. Barker and Gump also found that students in smaller schools were more eager to learn, and more likely to participate in school activities.
Another important advantage of small schools, according to Judith Kleinfield (1993), is that they create “undermanned settings” where there are not enough people to fit all the available leadership roles. Consequently, more is asked of everyone, and students' learning curves are steeper as new challenges must be accepted, and new ideas mastered.
A high school serious about preparing students for college, said James Conant in The American High School Today (1959), needs no fewer than 100 students in its graduating class. This has
become the rule of thumb that many use in arriving at an optimum figure of about 400 students for a high school.
Douglas Heath (1994) recommends a range of 200–350 students for a lower school and 400–500 students for a high school. He believes that when these ceilings are exceeded, students and teachers alike have fewer opportunities for sustained relationships, resulting in an impersonal and bureaucratic climate:
Students see their friends less frequently, have less contact with adults other than their teachers, participate much less frequently in extracurricular activities, including athletic teams, have much less opportunity to hold leadership positions, are more aggressive and disorderly, and cheat more frequently. Parents no longer visit the school as frequently or know their children's teachers as well (p. 81).
John Goodlad (1984) spoke favorably of the 225–250 student size of the British Infant School. As he put it,
Indeed, I would not want to face the challenge of justifying a senior, let alone a junior, high school of more than 500 to 600 students (unless I were willing to place arguments for a strong football team ahead of arguments for a good school, which I am not) (p. 310).
The conventional wisdom is that bigger schools offer economies of scale that not only increase learning but save the taxpayers money. But the evidence points in the opposite direction.
It appears that large schools are actually more expensive to operate.
Recently, the New York City-based Public Education Association and the Architectural League of New York examined the feasibility of operating small schools in New York City. The schools would not be alternative schools, but mainstays of the system. The two groups issued several reports that disprove the economy-of-scale argument. In Small Schools' Operating Costs (1994), the Public Education Association reported that
no research evidence supports the claim that large schools of the size found in New York City (for example, 1,500 to 4,000 or more) achieve operational cost-scale efficiencies significant enough to justify their existence or to offset size-related, educationally damaged inefficiencies.
On the contrary, studies show dis-economies (penalties) of scale in large schools. Difficult to manage efficiently and safely, large schools require ... an extra layer of managers—subject supervisors, assistant principals, deans, additional secretaries....
The report concludes that building schools with as few as 400 seats is cost-competitive with large-school construction. In a joint report on Schools for New York, the association and Architectural League (1994) present drawings by 52 teams of architects and designers showing what cost-effective small schools might look like. The construction specialists note that even more money could be saved by remodeling existing buildings or adapting existing non-school buildings for school use.
Tom Gregory has pointed out that the lower student-to-non-teacher ratio in smaller schools affords a key cost saving. To lower this ratio, he recommends that schools be modeled after cottage industries rather than corporations and other formal organizations. He offers this scenario:
The average per-pupil expenditure in this country is now about $5,260 per year. Envision a small, highly autonomous school, given that funding level. If the school has 200 kids in it, its annual operating budget is about $1,050,000. Return 20 percent of that amount—$210,000—to a trimmed-down central administration for its reduced services, and for bus transportation.
Imagine a low student-teacher ratio, say 20 to 1. Pay your 10 teachers well, say an average of $45,000 a year. Hire a head teacher, and pay him or her $60,000. Find an appropriate building and rent it for $7,000 a month plus another $3,000 for utilities. Hire a secretary, a custodian, and a cleaning person at $20,000 each. Budget $1,000 for supplies for each teacher, and $3,000 for the central office.
Put aside $10,000 to buy books each year, and $20,000 for computers and A-V equipment. If the idea of [field] trips is appealing, lease three vans, each at $7,000 a year. That's probably enough to cover their maintenance, but include another $3,000 just to be sure. Put aside $12,000 to subsidize the fuel costs of trips.
Now comes the fun: figuring out what to do with the $70,000 that has yet to be spent (Gregory 1992, p. 17).
Of course small schools should be valued because they are better for students and better for teachers, not simply because they save money. It just so happens, however, that as schools get better, they become, as some say, more productive. And productivity divided by cost is the classic determiner of efficiency. In fact, even if a small school did cost a little more than a large school, it would still be more efficient if it were more productive.
Catholic schools and other independent schools, which tend to be smaller than their public school counterparts, have much to teach us. True, many such schools are choosy about who they let in,
preferring students from privileged families and circumstances. But there are also Catholic schools in inner-city areas serving children of the underclass, and I am impressed with how well these
schools are doing with these students.
One advantage of parochial schools is that parents choose to send their children there, and nearly all Catholic schools are able to let parents know what is expected of their children and to make these expectations stick. Mary Rivera, who has experience as a principal in both public and Catholic schools, sees two other crucial advantages. Because these schools “don't follow the theory that larger is more efficient when it comes to education,” they can more easily build community. Above all, says Rivera,
Parochial schools are K–8 schools (sometimes with pre-school, too) that keep families in the same place for a very, very long time. The people in them feel personal ties. The parents know all the teachers and the administrators, and those professionals know the whole family.
Rivera notes that parochial schools weren't always unique in this respect:
Public schools used to be community/neighborhood-based at all grades. They were the center of neighborhood life. Everyone knew everyone. Even now, notice the uproar every time a district redistributes kids to schools, or implements some busing plan that's supposed to improve education for someone (1994).
Behind this discussion is a haunting question: If small schools and small classroom settings are good for students and good for our pocketbooks, why do we continue to operate and build large
schools? Perhaps it is because committing to smaller schools would require us to rethink the theories of leadership, management, and organization that now dominate school administration. In
smaller schools, there would be no need for elaborate administrative structures and hierarchies. The roles of assistant principal and middle manager would have to be re-evaluated. Counseling and
social work would be more informal. In short, we would have to make some tough decisions about our present allocation of resources and personnel.
Superintendent Yatvin believes we need small schools that put “authority in the hands of frontline practitioners,” enabling them to “make exceptions to rules and change foolish ones”:
I have lost faith in any and all large-scale, organized solutions to educational problems. They just put more paperwork, regulations, and job titles between children and the help they need (1994, p.37).
Small size is a tough choice, but it is also the right choice because it helps us to see the small picture better. Nancy Webster, who has taught in Miami for 25 years, believes it is the small picture that counts big for students:
This really Big picture is full of problems I know but can't fix and vocabulary I understand but can't use: competency-based curriculum, authentic assessment, CORE, Total Quality Management, whole language, and a lot of other words....
I've seen the vocabulary change, the classes get larger, the programs come and go, and more children fail. Meanwhile, `at-risk' children have entered our vocabulary, along with `dysfunctional families.' Schools with over 1,000 elementary students are big business.
It's too bad, really, because schooling is ... small, simple, and focused, when done well (1994, p. 52).
Perhaps we can use this small, simple, and focused school as a key leverage point for alleviating the alienation of students and making them more eager learners. If we succeed, surveillance cameras and transparent backpacks will no longer be necessary.
Architectural League of New York and the Public Education Association. (1994). Schools for New York: Plans and Precedents for Small Schools. New York.
Associated Press. (July 11, 1994). “Dayton School Bans Lockers, Backpacks.” San Antonio Express News.
Barker, R. G., and P. V. Gump. (1964). Big School, Small School: High School Size and Student Behavor. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press.
Boyer, E. (1995). The Basic School: A Community For Learning. Princeton, N.J.: Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.
Conant, J. (1959). The American High School Today: A First Report to Interested Students. New York: McGraw Hill.
Fowler, W. J., Jr. (1989). “School Size, School Characteristics, and School Outcomes.” Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association, San Francisco.
Goodlad, J. (1984). A Place Called School: Prospects for the Future. New York: McGraw Hill.
Gregory, T. (September 1992). “Small Is Too Big: Achieving A Critical Anti-Mass In the High School.” A position paper prepared for the Herbert H. Humphrey Institute for Public Affairs and the North Central Regional Educational Laboratory.
Heath, D. (1994). Schools of Hope: Developing Mind and Character in Today's Youth. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Kleinfeld, J. (April 14, 1993). “No Shortage of Characters In the North.” Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.
Martinez, R. (August 14, 1994). “New School Year Brings Change.” San Antonio Express News.
Public Education Association. (1994). Small Schools' Operating Costs—Reversing Assumptions About Economies of Scale. New York: Public Education Association.
Rivera, M. (January 26, 1994). “Neighborhood Schools: One Short Route To Reform.” Education Week 13, 18: 39–40.
Sergiovanni, T.J. (In press). Leadership for the Schoolhouse: How Is It Different? Why Is It Important? San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Webster, N. (August 3, 1994). “The Big Picture For Little People.” Education Week.
Yatvin, J. (September 14, 1994). “Catchers in the Rye.” Education Week.
School Closing Update 1/22/13
On the issue of school closure, reducing the support staff will save approximately $466,020 per school. I support reducing the school staff in lieu of closing schools. This will provide more stability, flexibility and choice. Choice is a key component of a successful school system. Parents will have more choices in terms of charter schools, virtual online schools, and now proposed parent trigger legislation. Fayette needs to lead the way in offering choices to our parents and our students. Keeping schools open will make this possible. (see the 2 page document I uploaded for Brooks and Tyrone)
I have been asked by several people to comment on my position on the possible closing of Inman Elementary. There are teachers and parents at
other schools who are asking the same questions so I am putting this answer together for everyone. In order to do this I obtained information on class sizes in Fayette County and from the State
of Georgia. According to the numbers, a school with three classes per grade level in Fayette, if class sizes remain the same, would have between 396 and 450 students. With three classes per grade
level, the state average would be 417 students per school. (See attached spreadsheet.)
These numbers are not exact, but given as a range. Why three classes per grade level? This would allow teachers to team up and group students for instruction in reading or math where grouping might be an effective option. In Kindergarten or first grade, four classes may be needed. According to the Citizen, Inman currently serves 488 students. By all measures, Inman has more than enough students to remain open.
According to the current numbers, Brooks has 298 students, Tyrone 344, Hood Avenue 361 and Fayette Intermediate 388. Hood Avenue only serves Pre-K to 2nd grade and Fayette Intermediate only serves 3rd – 5th grade so they both have enough students to fill at least three classes per grade level. The administration there could be consolidated, but I do not support closing either of those schools because the City of Fayetteville needs to be served by neighborhood schools. So that leaves Brooks and Tyrone with the lowest numbers per grade level. By looking at the numbers alone, it appears that those schools should be looked at first for closure. However, I do not support closing Brooks Elementary because of the distance. Tyrone Elementary serves many students who are there on re-assignment from other schools. Many parents have gone out of their way to choose that school and they have a strong community built there. I am not in favor of closing these schools, but we cannot spend money we don’t have.
Since the numbers at these schools are low, other cuts need to be made at these schools first. There is not enough money to fund everything. We cannot continue to balance the budget by cutting days from the school year. Teachers cannot be expected to teach the new Common Core State Standards for math and language and the Georgia Performance Standards for all other subjects with fewer planning days and fewer instructional days. Henry County will have 180 school days this year and Fayette County only 177, but our teachers will be responsible to teach the same new Common Core Standards in Math and Language and Georgia Performance Standards in all other subjects. We have put our teachers at a disadvantage with our recent cuts. Why?
A school with 18-20 teachers does not financially justify a full time principal and a full time assistant principal. The administrator to teacher ratio should not be less than the teacher to student ratio. Funding for support services needs to reflect the number of students in attendance at any particular school. We have strong community support, and we need to rely on that support to get us through these lean times. Parents and community members can help as they volunteer in classrooms to make up the difference.
At the last board meeting, $41,000 was approved for a business needs assessment and a consultant to write a grant for career education. I would have voted against this because the name of the consultant was not provided, nor was there detail about the consultant’s budget. It was also not clear what would be cut to fund this initiative. There are businesses that want to cooperate and help our students, not take funding from them. That kind of spending cannot continue.
We are facing a tremendous budget deficit, 16 million this school year alone. This cannot continue. There are other cuts that can be made, but the only cuts currently being considered are closing schools and eliminating first grade Para-Professionals. If I am elected in November, the role of the school board is to approve and monitor the budget. It has been hard for the current school board members to do this because there is only one thing “on the table” at any given time for consideration. If I am elected, I would insist that the entire budget be open for consideration. Closing schools alone will not even come close to addressing the current budget deficit. Financially, it would not make that much of a difference. I would rather trim the budget by reducing services at these schools than close them altogether. It may be that other cuts can be made to make up the difference; there is certainly room in the given budget to make these cuts, if the entire budget were open for consideration, as it should be. This will not be easy, but I will give it my best effort with the needs of all our students as my top priority.
State law set these standards for the maximum numbers of students in classes by grade level, pre-waiver:
Kindergarten with full-time paraprofessional: 20
Grades 1-3 with or without full-time paraprofessional: 21
Grades 4-5: 28 for English, math, science and social studies
Grades 6-8: 28 for English, math, science and social studies
Grades 9-12: 32 for English, math, social studies, science and foreign language *
* Note: Some flexibility here.
Here's a sampling of class size maximums in two metro Atlanta school districts
Fayette County (for the 2012-13 school year):
Kindergarten with paraprofessional: 19, not to exceed 20
Grade 1: 19, not to exceed 21
Grades 2-3: 19, not to exceed 22
Grades 4-5: 23, not to exceed 26
Grades 6-8: 24, not to exceed 26 to 28
Grades 9-12: 24-25, not to exceed 28
Cobb County (for the 2012-13 school year):
Grades 1-3: 25
Grades 4-5: 32
Grades 6-8: 32
Grades 9-12: 34
Source: State Department of Education, local school districts
I would like to hear from you personally about your thoughts on this and would welcome your ideas and suggestions.
Mary Kay Bacallao
(August 9, 2012)