Our error doesn’t change our position

An editorial that appeared on last Sunday’s Opinion page called on local school districts to consider consolidating administrations to help save hundreds of thousands of dollars countywide.

The concept of regionalization and consolidation among Mahoning Valley school districts is one that our newspaper has promoted for years. It makes good sense and we continue to stand by it.

Unfortunately, some enrollment data that we published last week to help make our argument drew comparisons between some 2019 and 2022 enrollment figures that, frankly, should not have been compared. That’s because the Ohio Department of Education, which provided the data, in 2021 changed the way it calculated what it calls “Average Daily Membership,” meaning students in the school district.

The ODE’s 2019 figures included a compilation of every student who lived within the school district boundaries — whether or not they attended that particular school district.

The 2022 figures, however, included a compilation of only students who actually were enrolled in each individual district. The numbers appeared on spreadsheets for 2019 and 2022, both listed in column “E” and each with similar headings: “Enrolled ADM FY22,” (meaning “Enrolled Average Daily Membership Fiscal Year 2022”) and, “District Total Average Daily Membership FY19.”

Nevertheless, the numbers were not comparable. They did not compare apples to apples, and should not have been used to help make our point.

As soon as the unfair comparison was brought to my attention, I personally spent several hours discussing the matter on the phone with Warren City Schools’ superintendent, with the Ohio Department of Education’s financial manager and studying the enormous reports on the ODE’s website.

The fact is, enrollment really is dropping in many local school districts, albeit not at the rate we stated.

According to ODE, Warren City Schools went from an average daily membership of 4,480 students in 2019; to 4,405 in 2020; to 4,273 in 2021; and then up a bit to 4,379 in 2022.

ODE data shows Youngstown City Schools went from 4,837 in 2019 to 4,429 in 2022.

The data shows Howland Local Schools went from 2,557 in 2019 to 2,414 in 2022.

Joseph Badger local schools dropped from 675 to 640.

Boardman Local Schools dropped from 4,059 to 3,819.

And South Range dipped from 1,251 to 1,204 students.

The numbers were provided by the ODE on massive spreadsheets offering an incredible volume of data for every public school district in Ohio.

The columns include things such as enrollment average daily membership, population density per square mile and state ranking for each district.

The report also includes other really interesting information such as classroom teachers’ average salaries in each district, the number of full-time administrators and their average salary. It includes school district expenditures per pupil, broken down into categories like building operations, instructional expenditures and staff support.

It even includes racial background of students and percentage of students considered economically disadvantaged.

In each Mahoning Valley school district that we analyzed, we found increased operating costs per student between 2019 and 2022, some by thousands of dollars per student.

Don’t just take my word for it. Log on to www.education.ohio.gov and search “Cupp Report” to see for yourself.

We know the consolidation idea never will be popular among residents with pride in individual school districts and stiff resistance to mergers.

That’s exactly why we offered a suggestion that the Youngstown-Warren Regional Chamber launched more than a decade ago. That was to consider consolidation of public school administrations. Each county could have a central administrative office, thus eliminating layers of administrative teams led by superintendents for each district. At the same time, however, most communities could retain their own identity.

I view opinions put forth by our editorial board as only starting points for conversation — not end points.

So, yes, we made a mistake in the comparisons we used in putting forth our argument. As I’ve written many times in this space, when we make a mistake, we own it and we correct it.

Local school districts may not be hemorrhaging students at the rate we indicated. But at the end of the day, the fact is that the local population is dropping and so are school enrollment figures, while costs per student are steadily rising.

We believe consolidation of administrations is an idea that needs to be explored.



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