Four years ago, Tom Humphries, chief executive officer of the Youngstown-Warren Regional Chamber, ignited a fire-storm when he broached the idea of consolidating the 45 school districts in Mahoning, Trumbull and Columbiana counties into three. Not surprisingly, schools superintendents and other district officials were most vocal in their opposition.
By contrast, many private sector taxpayers were intrigued by the notion of millions of dollars — Humphries provided a range of $50 million to $70 million — being cut in administrative costs and the money being funneled into the classrooms.
The issue of consolidation never made it beyond the talking stage, but now it’s back on the front burner — at the state level. Republican Gov. John Kasich has asked the Ohio General Assembly to create a commission to study the feasibility of consolidating school districts in Ohio. There are a total of 614; the last time they were looked at with an eye to reducing the cost of public education was in the 1960s.
“The issue of consolidation has to be considered,” Kasich told Ohio Public Radio. “I have to prove to people what we are going to get from it. And it’s not going to be a commission so we can navel-gaze. It’s going to be a commission that is going to look at what they do around the country, what the research has shown. And they will do their own research.”
While the primary goal of consolidation is saving money, the Cincinnati Inquirer quoted the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee as saying that academic quality could be improved. When smaller districts are merged with larger one, the students from the smaller ones have more access to the resources of the larger districts.
Rep. Peter Beck, R-Medina, told the Inquirer that he also wants to study the possibility of using mergers to avoid duplications of high-paid district administrators, such as superintendents, treasurers and curricula directors.
In any discussion of public education in Ohio, the issue of funding kindergarten through 12th grade has been the most difficult to resolve.
The Ohio Supreme Court has ruled that it is unconstitutional to depend primarily on property taxes for funding. A “thorough and efficient” education cannot be provided to each Ohio child if there are disparities between rich and poor districts due to revenue disparities.
Gov. Kasich and the Republican controlled General Assembly should take up the issue of school funding as part of the study on consolidation.
Kasich’s predecessors argued that the Supreme Court’s ruling had been met through the school construction program bearing a price tag of billions of dollars.
However, with the state’s economy in turmoil, such additional funding for public education will not be available.
The governor has opened the door to a full review of the K-12 system in Ohio.