TICONDEROGA - New York State is wasting money on too many small school districts.
That's the conclusion of a report by the state Commission on Property Tax Relief.
The commission has called for the mandatory consolidation of all school districts with fewer than 1,000 students.
That includes every school in the Ticonderoga area.
State Sen. Betty Little applauds the commissions intent, but expressed concern about mandatory school consolidations.
"For many years, I have been a strong advocate for sharing services and, where it makes sense, consolidation of programs and organizations to save tax dollars," said Little.
"That said, I am not a proponent of consolidating school districts on the basis that they enroll less than 1,000 pupils," she continued. "There are many factors that need to be considered and the quality of education for every student has to be at the top of the list. One concern that immediately comes to mind is transportation and the reality that in the Adirondacks some children would be on the bus for an hour or two if small districts were consolidated.
"These are decisions that require input of local communities, parents, teachers, school boards and administrators," Little said. "Where the state should be helpful is removing obstacles, giving local districts more control and flexibility and encouraging them to reach out to neighboring districts to share costs either with each other or through BOCES."
New York State has 697 school districts outside New York City with an average enrollment of 2,540 students, according to a commission report.
More than 200 districts, 28 percent, have fewer than 1,000 students.
The national average for school district enrollment is 3,400. Maryland school districts average 36,000 students; North Carolina 12,000 and Virginia 9,000.
"Smaller school districts have two basic flaws: 1) they are more expensive on a per pupil basis compared to larger districts; and 2) the educational opportunities they provide are more limited than those offered by larger districts," according to the report.
School districts with fewer than 1,000 students spend more on non-instructional services than larger districts, according to the commission report. In 2006-07, small districts spent $5,345 per student on non- instructional services, or $859 (19 percent) more than the average spent by all districts outside of New York City.
"The commission staff conducted a regression analysis that found a statistically significant relationship between school total spending per pupil and pupil numbers - the higher the pupil numbers up to 1,000, the lower the per pupil spending," the report reads.
"Not only do smaller school districts spend more per pupil on overhead and other non-instructional expense, they also spend more on instruction per pupil," it continues. "Commission analysis demonstrated that the merger of smaller school districts (smaller than 1,000 students) could save as much as $7 for every additional student. In other words, for every 100 pupils added to a district with fewer than 1,000 pupils, the expense per student would be reduced by $700."
The commission refers to a study by the Maxwell School at Syracuse University to support its position.
"Researchers found that consolidation would save two 900-pupil school districts 7 to 9 percent and two 300-pupil districts approximately 20 percent," according to the report.
The state commission estimates savings of $159 to $189 million from merging New York State districts with fewer than 900 students.
"These savings could be used to both increase educational opportunity and lower local school property taxes," the report reads.
The state commission also claims larger schools allow for greater academic opportunities for students.
"One analysis of school districts with fewer than 1,000 students found that larger school districts within the study group had a greater likelihood of Advanced Placement course participation among pupils in grades 10 through 12," it said.
"This final report produced by the Commission on Property Tax Relief is a blueprint for how to solve New York State's property tax problem," said Thomas Suozzi, commission chairman. "The debate is no longer whether or not there is a problem, or what caused the problem. The debate is instead over how to address the crushing school property tax burden our state faces.
"The fiscal crisis we now face demands that the state legislature accept the challenge to work together to reduce state spending," he added. "Our school districts also need to reduce spending, but to do so the state must enact the historically difficult to achieve changes in state laws and mandates. These surely are difficult times. We must provide New Yorkers with property tax relief and we must improve educational quality. To succeed in both efforts, we must give schools the flexibility to redirect existing resources towards educational quality. Mandate reform is essential to that effort."