As local school boards are constantly searching for areas to make financial cuts with the minimalist effect on student curriculum, more schools should consider consolidation.
Two questions that must be asked when considering consolidation are: Will there be noticeable financial savings and can the districts maintain a quality education?
Consolidation, though not always an ideal aspect for some, is a logical consideration during tough economic times. The budget season was difficult for districts last year and districts will definitely be facing a similar plight this year.
Pooling resources doesn’t always require cutting positions to make budget goals. Consolidating space, equipment and practice space for student athletes and musicians would be utilizing what schools already have while reaping the benefits of cost savings, and keeping the curriculum intact.
Consolidation is never an easy decision. Schools are the center of our local communities, and taking that away is always controversial. But dwindling class sizes and burgeoning property taxes demand that school officials consider these difficult options.
Take Putnam Central School for example, which had 35 children enrolled in its school at the end of the 2011-2012 school year. Would it make better financial sense to divide these students between Whitehall and Ticonderoga? Or does a school like Putnam offer a more individualized education?
Keeping student needs in the forefront is the first priority when talking about consolidation or making cuts in any district. Consolidating an entire school district could also have major consequences for the small community of Putnam. The parents and students could feel detached, and it would likely create longer commutes to school and extra-curricular activities, with children feeling less attached to their hometown.
Decisions to consolidate districts are best made on an individual, case-by-case basis —what’s best for Plattsburgh City Schools will not always be best for Minerva-Newcomb Central School. Some districts in the area have growing enrollments and their resources, administration team and facilities are being used to capacity, while other schools might benefit from each other’s strengths.
Consolidation of administrative offices might be more seamless. School superintendent positions could be merged through attrition as officials retire or resign.
Another area that should be considered is the consolidation of sports teams. Some local schools have such low student numbers that they cannot field a team in every available sport. When they can, they often are not competitive, or young athletes might not be afforded the rest they need during a game because of a lack of substitutes.
This season alone, Crown Point Central School’s girls soccer team, with just 11 players, was nearly unable to begin the season. The team was able to make it but it was right down to the last minute. The girls in Schroon Lake were in a similar situation.
Consolidating sports teams would save districts money on equipment and coaching staff, while utilizing a shared field would create savings and bring strong athletes together to work hard and encourage competitiveness and endurance.
Shared services could offer an alternative to cutting programs in a school, while keeping staff on the payrolls and saving taxpayer dollars.
Difficult times demand difficult decisions. As school officials enter another demanding budget season, they must take a long look at merging as many resources as possible. Nothing should be left off the table — not even studying the financial benefits of merging with a nearby district.
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