Department of Education officials are recommending that schools be given another year or two to work on cost sharing arrangements before lawmakers act on any more measures to push districts to consolidate. The State Board of Education requested a study of how other states handle consolidation as they debate how to deal with declining population in Iowa’s rural areas.
Education Department director, Judy Jefferey, says the study didn’t provide any immediate solutions. Jefferey says they found that some of the states they thought were working on consolidation of school districts were actually working on administrative efficiencies, so they didn’t find as much as they thought they would. She says they did find some affirmation for some of the sharing incentives that the legislature put in last year.
Jefferey says so far most states have shied away from mandatory consolidation and instead provide incentives to share management costs with other districts. She says Arkansas is probably the one state that has moved to consolidate school buildings by saying there’s one size for a certain district, and you have to go to that building.
Jefferey says Iowa doesn’t appear to be doing anything out of the norm as there does not seem to be a silver bullet to the answer that everyone is seeking and there seems to be multiple answers to the issue across the country. Jefferey says if the Iowa Legislature does ever move to mandate consolidation of school districts, lawmakers should consider appointing a non-partisian committee to oversee the issue.
Jefferey says it would be a "sort of impartial body that doesn’t have to worry about being elected to office, or that they’re not living within the community." She says they are "really, really hard decisions for people to make and sometimes it just doesn’t get done because of the political nature of the conversation." Iowa had more than 4,600 school districts in 1950, and in the nearly six decades since, that number has fallen to 362.