Consolidation vs. cooperation

Contents of this issue:

  • Consolidation vs. cooperation
  • Los Angeles Times rates city teachers
  • Americans owe more to student loans than credit cards
  • College comes early for some home-schoolers
  • Riverview cuts supply budget, restores busing


GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Consolidation of public school districts as a way to save money is on the front burner again in Michigan, but many districts say they're already saving cash by sharing services, according to media reports around the state.

The discussion centers on a study by Michigan State University's Education Policy Center that concludes Michigan could save up to $612 million a year if smaller school districts consolidated into larger operations, mainly through economies of scale and eliminating duplicative services.

Lesser amounts could be saved by sharing services like accounting and transportation without complete consolidations, the report said.

The study was jointly commissioned by eight affiliated Michigan newspapers. The Kalamazoo Gazette reported that many school districts already are sharing employees or contracting for services with private firms or with other school districts as a way to trim spending.

"If we can merge our support services for technology and business and food services and maintenance and still maintain our community identity, we'll have the best of both worlds," Sue Wakefield, superintendent of Plainwell Community Schools, told The Gazette.

Consolidation supporters say it would offer more course options to high school students in small districts and would help retain teachers, the media reports said. Opponents say smaller districts offer smaller class sizes and more personal attention, and questioned if predicted savings would be realized.

"I'm tired of the simplistic battle war cries for consolidation that don't factor in all the variables that are going to differ from district to district," Godfrey-Lee Public Schools Superintendent David Britten told Michigan Capitol Confidential.

Several media reports cited a 2007 study by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy that concluded that consolidation would save money in some cases, but would be impractical most of the time. That study, "School District Consolidation, Size and Spending: An Evaluation," also concluded that the state would save more money by breaking up large districts than by merging smaller ones.

The Mackinac Center publishes Michigan Education Digest.

The Kalamazoo Gazette, "School districts in Southwest Michigan moving toward merging operations to save money," Aug. 15, 2010

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "School District Consolidation, Size and Spending: An Evaluation," May 22, 2007

Michigan Capitol Confidential, "School Consolidation is no 'Silver Bullet,'" Aug. 17, 2010


Editor’s Note — This article has been corrected from a previous version. The LA Times did not hire the RAND Corp. to conduct this analysis, but was assisted by a RAND Corp. researcher.

LOS ANGELES — The Los Angeles Times is publishing an independent analysis of the best and worst teachers in the Los Angeles Unified School District using a "value-added" approach that shows wide variation in teacher effectiveness, it reported. The city teachers union is launching a boycott of the newspaper in response, the Times reported.

Aided by a RAND Corporation researcher, the newspaper conducted a statistical analysis of student scores on standardized tests in math and English over seven years.

It grouped the results by teacher and found that students of some teachers consistently made larger gains in a single year than those in other classrooms, and more than would be expected based on the students' past scores, the report said. Conversely, it found that students of other teachers consistently lost ground, the Times reported.

The difference could not be attributed to class size, socioeconomics or parental support, the Times reported. The Times said it will publish the entire database later this month, after first inviting teachers to view it and post comments.

The district could have done the same analysis but has not, the Times reported.

Critics of value-added models say that standardized tests are flawed, and that they do not capture intangible benefits of a given classroom, the Times reported. Supporters say it is the best method to date of objectively evaluating teacher performance.

Los Angeles Times, "Who's teaching L.A.'s kids?" Aug. 14, 2010

Los Angeles Times, "Union leader calls on L.A. teachers to boycott Times," Aug. 15, 2010

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Using Value-Added Assessment to Define Teacher Quality," June 30, 2008


WASHINGTON, D.C. — For the first time, Americans owe more in student loans than they do in credit card debt, according to a report in The Wall Street Journal. While citizens cumulatively owe about $826.5 billion in revolving credit, mostly credit card debt, they owe a total of $829.8 billion in government and private student loans, The Journal said.

The figures were reported by Mark Kantrowitz, publisher of FinAid.org and FastWeb.com, The Journal reported.

Kantrowitz estimated that there is $605.6 billion in federal student loans outstanding and $167.8 billion in private loans, The Journal reported. Of that, about $300 billion in federal student loan debt was generated in the last four years.

Consumers with both credit card debt and student loan debt tend to pay the credit card balance first, since it typically carries a higher interest rate, according to The Journal. The report also noted that college tuition is increasing during an economic downturn, resulting in more parents and students seeking loans to cover education costs.

Student loans typically cannot be forgiven through bankruptcy, The Journal reported.

The Wall Street Journal, "Student-loan debt surpasses credit cards," Aug. 9, 2010

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Analysis: Dangers of Status Quo Budgeting in Higher Education," Aug. 2, 2010


PORTAGE, Mich. — Brooke Rowland of Portage is 17 years old and entering her senior year at Western Michigan University, according to The Kalamazoo Gazette. She is one of a number of home-schooled students nationally who enter college well before the typical age, The Gazette reported.

Rowland was a full-time student at Kalamazoo Valley Community College at age 14, and then transferred to WMU at 16, according to The Gazette. Two teen-age siblings also are in college.

University officials told The Gazette that home-schoolers tend to be independent, inquisitive learners. They also said that parents and home-schoolers should consider the nonacademic side of campus life before enrolling, The Gazette said. For example, some colleges require freshmen to live on campus regardless of age.

Dual enrollment — attending high school and college at the same time — is one a way of transitioning to college used by home-schoolers as well as other students, officials told The Gazette.

The Kalamazoo Gazette, "Homeschooling can pave fast track to college," Aug. 12, 2010

Michigan Education Report, "At Home At Delta College," Feb. 23, 2007


RIVERVIEW, Mich. — Reducing the supply budget and correcting a budget error will allow Riverview Community Schools to restore elementary and middle school transportation, according to The (Southgate) News-Herald, though a counseling position will be eliminated.

The school board voted in May to eliminate busing in order to address a projected $3.4 million in overspending, The News-Herald reported.

The district will reduce the supply budget by about $70,000 and also correct a mistaken charge of $30,000 for kindergarten furnishings which was covered in last year's budget, The News-Herald said. The district also has eliminated a counseling position for a $92,000 spending reduction.

Earlier this year, some board members said that such cuts would not have been needed if the Riverview Education Association had accepted a pay freeze similar to other employee groups, according to the report. The association president said at the time that the Michigan Education Association refused to allow Riverview teachers to re-open their contract with the district, The News-Herald reported.

Superintendent Dennis Desmarais called that practice "illegal," The News-Herald reported, while union president William Beson said the history of spending in the district shows it is "well off" and can afford to meet current contract obligations.

The (Southgate) News-Herald, "Riverview: Busing restored for elementary, middle school students," Aug. 10, 2010

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "'Edujobs' fact check," Aug. 11, 2010

MICHIGAN EDUCATION DIGEST is a service of Michigan Education Report (http://www.educationreport.org), an online newspaper published by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy (http://www.mackinac.org), a private, nonprofit, nonpartisan research and educational institute.

Contact Managing Editor Lorie Shane at med@educationreport.org

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