This evening I received a message from a good friend asking for my thoughts on how to respond to a meme making the social media rounds comparing Oklahoma and Florida in relation to the idea of consolidation. I wrote back mentioning that I've been planning to write a post about it and promised to do it tonight. Over dinner, I was scrolling through Facebook and multiple friends were sharing a post about consolidation that was attributed to one of our state senators, but not shared from him directly. I liked the content of the post, but felt the need to confirm the authenticity before sharing it myself. I've since sent the senator a private FB message and he replied confirming that he wrote it.
So, I'd like to begin with these comments being shared around Facebook today that are confirmed to be from Senator Rob Sharp, a Republican serving Senate District 17 (eastern Oklahoma County and northern Pottawatomie County).
One of the many myths in Oklahoma is consolidation of school districts will save taxpayer money. In truth, it is quite the opposite!
The base of funding Oklahoma's education system is local dollars (known as dedicated revenue). Subsequently, there are 37 school districts that receive ZERO State appropriated dollars because of the wealth of that school district in which the students attend.
There are another 64 school districts that receive ZERO foundation aide from the State because of the of its wealth.
The remaining school districts receive State appropriated dollars on the basis of equity. Of these school districts on the average about 52% of the school district's money comes from local dedicated funds and the remainder from State appropriated funds.
The State only supplements what the local wealth does not provide. And, this is done on a per pupil appropriation (Average Daily Membership) , and NOT DONE ON THE NUMBER OF SCHOOL DISTRICTS!
Therefore, the NUMBER of School Districts in Oklahoma is irrelevant to the State's appropriated dollars.
There are currently 696, 486 students in Oklahoma's public schools. If there were only 2 school districts in Oklahoma, or 515 school districts it would still cost the State of Oklahoma the same amount of dollars.
Those school districts that are losing students (ADM) are forced to close their doors by voluntary consolidation. Neither local or appropriated dollars can save that district because both local and State appropriated dollars is based on ADM.
Several problems are created with forced consolidation:
1) the debt of the closed district will follow to the new district (changes would be required to raise the capped debt of a school district)
2) the closed district probably has a very low ad valorem assessment and only posses a financial burden to the new district
3) BIG PROBLEM- any attempt to force consolidation would require ad valorem to be under the State legislature control. Otherwise, the State would be bankrupt without the local dollars that forms the base of school district funding.
4) Currently, the State does not receive any of the ad valorem dollars. All ad valorem remains within the county for distribution.
5) All buildings within a school district are approved by local taxpayer bond issues. The State has ZERO investment in local school buildings. Bond issues require a 60% taxpayer approval. And, then maintained by 35 mill levies approved by the local district taxpayers. All of this would be required to change under any attempt at forced consolidation. All local ad valorem would be required to be placed into one State-wide revolving fund for distribution. (SOCIALISM).
6) Oklahoma's education funding formula is considered the best in the US.
7) It is not the education funding formula that is the problem, it is the insufficient amount of revenue the State is providing as its share of the formula.
Again, those are Senator Sharp's thoughts. I happen to find them brilliant.
Following my private messaging with Senator Sharp, he personally went to the original post where I had found the words attributed to him (the words he confirmed as his) and posted an additional statement which I feel adds greater clarity to his original comments:
1) Vernon Florence's "Study on School Consolidation". Mr. Florence is probably the most knowledgeable authority on the Oklahoma education funding formula. His research concluded that not only does school district consolidation not save the State any money, but would actually increase costs. [Mr. Florence teaches education finance to superintendents at CCOSA]
2) The Education Commission of the States presented a study to the Oklahoma Education Formula Task Force on December 20, 2017. The fiscal analysts, Emily Parker and Michael Griffith, related that States that have consolidated have not experienced any savings and have actually increased costs. The analysis from their study confirmed the Oklahoma Education Funding formula was the best in the US, and that other States would benefit from using this formula. Parker and Griffith related on December 20, 2017, it was the larger school districts with a student population of 25 thousand plus that created the bloat of administrative and per pupil costs. The conclusion from this study was the smaller school districts were actually the most cost efficient, student scores the best, and student appreciation for their social environment the most satisfactory.There have been those who have countered, "Why not consolidate just the superintendents and not the actual districts themselves? Have one county-wide superintendent serving multiple school districts?"
Well, if each school district remains independent and, thus, still has its own locally elected school board you would end up with an interesting situation: one individual serving multiple sets of bosses. Each board would have to approve the hiring of the individual to serve as the collective superintendent. Each independent district would be paying a percentage of this superintendent's salary. The likelihood of unanimity of vision among all of the districts/school boards is not likely. So how does this superintendent figure out how to act when differing districts/school boards give him conflicting orders or objectives to follow? How does the superintendent appropriately divide his/her time up in serving each district? An individual can only be in one place at one time. Matthew 6:24 gives some insight here: "No one can serve two masters; for either he will hat the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other...". Granted, this scripture was alluding to a different topic, but it's still applicable here. A single superintendent with multiple, potentially conflicting/competing bosses, has virtually no ability to help oversee a quality education for all of the students being served.
If two of more local communities happen to decide on their own that consolidation makes the most sense for the educational needs of their students, then let them make that decision. There should not be any effort to impose such a forced consolidation upon any district by the government of the state of Oklahoma. In most cases it neither makes sense or cents.