Delaware finally has a budget. Now let’s consolidate the schools

Filed in Delaware, Education by on July 5, 2017

Currently, the First State devotes 19 school districts, including three vo-tech districts, to serve nearly 136,000 students. In Dover, a town with fewer than 40,000 people, there are three school districts, including a separate district for Polytech, with serves about 1,200 students. 

Jump across the border and compare that with the Montgomery Country Public School District in Maryland, which serves more students (nearly 160,000) than all Delaware’s 19 districts combined. Fairfax County Public Schools educate over 186,000 students. Prince George’s County Public Schools serve 130,000 students. 

You get the point. 

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About the Author ()

Rob Tornoe is a local cartoonist and columnist, and can be seen in The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Press of Atlantic City, The News Journal, and the Dover Post chain of newspapers. He's also a contributor to Media Matters and WHYY. Web site: Twitter: @RobTornoe

Comments (5)

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  1. chris says:

    First step: Would be nice to get a legitimate study done by folks not vested in the current education system. That’s the first hurdle to overcome.

  2. SussexAnon says:

    A school district in MD doesn’t really mean much unless you include the number of employees for a comparable district there versus how many Delaware has by comparison.

    This has been studied before. More than once.

    And we’ve already seen how ‘well’ the vo-tech schools run.

  3. puck says:

    Consolidation may or may not save money, but it will definitely force the white flight crowd to come up with new ways to keep poor and brown people out of their schools. Under a county wide consolidation I would expect a retreat from “school choice.”

  4. mediawatch says:

    Rob correctly notes one of the stumbling blocks to saving money through consolidation: the leveling-up of salaries of employees in the lower-paying districts to match the salaries of those in the higher-paying districts.
    Now, there is a way to resolve the issue directly: include in any consolidation legislation a provision that the boards of education in the new district would be responsible for establishing/negotiating the salaries of their employees without any requirement for leveling up. (Yes, I know, that won’t happen because the GA would incur the wrath of both school administrators and the DSEA, and we might even wind up with a statewide teacher strike.)
    But the real issue here — the one nobody in Dover has dared touch despite countless suggestions over the past decade — is school finance reform. If you don’t adjust or, better, abolish the archaic unit system, you will find it impossible to generate savings.
    Well, if X number of students gets you a teacher’s salary, a Y number of students gets you a principal and Z number of students gets you a central office administrator, it doesn’t matter how many districts you have. The number of students will determine your staffing levels and the numbers will come out pretty much the same, no matter how many districts you have.
    But what happens if you switch from a unit count to a per student funding system?
    Simple example, so I’ll just make up some numbers here: let’s say a district has 15,000 “regular” students (not special ed) and the state funds the district at a rate of $10,000 per student. That means the state funds the district to the tune of $150 million. Now, let the school board decide how many administrators it needs, how many teachers it needs, how many paraprofessionals, how many custodians — and how much it is going to pay them.
    (This is, of course, an oversimplification. You’ll need some weighted funding for special ed students, English language learners and (dare I forget) vo-tech students.)
    But my point — and the ultimate bottom line — is this: the unit system stifles innovation in staffing, but a per-student funding system would encourage school boards to be imaginative in their decision-making, and school board members who pack central offices with administrators while letting class sizes grow aren’t likely to win a second term.
    Consolidation is an issue, but it won’t result in a satisfactory solution unless school finance reform comes first.

  5. puck says:

    I get that downstate salaries are lower than upstate salaries. But I suspect that leveling-up wouldn’t be so much of a burden in a one-district-per-county consolidation.