Thursday, October 14, 2010

A Consolidated School District for SA?

At the SA2020 kick off meeting, one of the participants suggested that the 15 independent school districts in the San Antonio area be consolidated into one district in order to increase efficiency and effectiveness. Surprisingly (to me, anyway) a lot of people in the room cheered.  Apparently State Rep. Roland Gutierrez, D-San Antonio, has been backing this, who know's maybe he was the guy who brought it up at the conference
First of all, could this even happen? Yes, there are 3 ways to do it.

  1. The Board of Trustees of the school districts involved can adopt a resolution to consolidate and then hold an election.
  2. Constituents of the districts can do it by petition, requesting an election to consolidate, signed by a required number of voters in the district.
  3. The Commissioner of the Texas Education Agency can force the consolidation of a wealthy district with a poor one, if the wealthy district cannot come to an agreement on wealth sharing with the poor district.
School districts have been able to consolidate since 1995, when Chapter 13 was added to the Texas Public Education Code. Forced consolidations, also allowed in 1995, are part of Chapter 41, the Equalization of Wealth Level provision of the Public Education Code, otherwise known as the "Robin Hood" legislation.

So it can be done, but is consolidation PRACTICAL??

If all the districts in SA were consolidated the student population would be:
  • Alamo Hts             4,762 growing
  • East Central           9,292 growing
  • Edgewood           12,392 growing
  • Harlandale           14,521 growing
  • Fort Sam               1,472 growing
  • Judson                 21,750 growing
  • Lackland                  936 stable
  • North East           65,498 growing
  • Northside            94,369 growing
  • Randolph Field      1,198 stable
  • San Antonio        55,327 growing
  • Somerset              3,726 growing
  • South San Antonio 9,974 stable
  • Southside               5,216 growing
  • Southwest            11,531 growing
                                    311,964 Total Students and GROWING

 The seventh largest school district in the US and the largest in Texas, Houston ISD, had an enrollment of 202,773 students during the 2009-10 school year.  Enrollment has been declining since 2006.  HISD had over 208,000 during the 2004-2005 school year (pre-Katrina, the HISD took in many students from New Orleans after the evacuations).  The district has also had many scandals and problems, such as doctored dropout rates, fraud allegations, failing teachers, and failing to meet federal standards for special education.

I'm guessing that school consolidation proponents think that having only one school district would equalize wealth, make schools across the district equal and the school population would be spread equally across all schools.  Well, let's take a look at Northside ISD.  It is a sprawling district that extends from Hwy 90 just inside Loop 410 north into Southern Bandera County and west to Medina County.  Back in 1949, when it was formed, this area had a low population so in order to have a similar population to other districts in the area it had to be this big.  Now though, NISD is in the most popular region of SA, population is booming. Even during the middle of the Great Recession, from 2007 to 2009, the district grew by 8.0%.  As of March 2009, when it's population was only 82,587, it was the 37th largest school district in the nation.
Credit: NISD Resource Planning

 All schools in NISD are required to teach the TEKS (Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills), which all Texas schools are required to teach,  all teachers are required to meet the same standards, and several bond issues have been held to update older schools.  Magnet schools exist at Holmes HS(Business Careers) and Jay HS(Science Academy) to encourage students from other parts of the district to attend these schools. 

So, each school in NISD should be considered worthy and relatively equal, but public perception and actions say otherwise.  Growth in the city has been moving steadily north westward for the last twenty years, so now there are at least 10 elementary schools in NISD outside Loop 1604.  The average student body population for elementary schools gets larger the farther out the school is.

Average School Population
  • Inside 410--646 students 
  • between 410 and 1604--796 students 
  • outside 1604--898 students
There were 5 new schools opened for the 2010-11 school year. All, with the exception of Martin ES which is the first school built inside Loop 410 in 20 years, are outside Loop 1604. Martin ES is in the Canterbury subdivision, which is the only area in NISD inside Loop 410 to have much growth. Six of the proposed schools from the 2010 bond issue will also be built outside Loop 1604 (the seventh school's location has not yet been determined.)

NISD tries to spread some of the school population around by capping student population at over populated schools, and sending those students to cluster schools.  There are 13 cluster schools in the district, 3 inside Loop 410, the rest scattered across the district between 410 and 1604.

The table below shows a comparison between the elementary school populations inside Loop 410 and outside Loop 1604.  Housing in NISD inside Loop 410 has become less desirable over time, while outside 1604 is where most of the new housing is being built. I compared elementary schools because this is the foundation for growth in the district for the next ten years.

(sorry for the chopped off totals on the right, if I made the table any smaller, it would be unreadable)
Source:  NISD Resource Planning Enrollment Reports
Total school population in both areas is projected to increase, but what is really telling is the percent change in class sizes for the two areas.  Class size tends to drop off some after 1st grade, but the slide is much more dramatic (14.08% inside 410 versus 2.23% outside 1604) for the schools inside Loop 410.  This may indicate that families tend to move outside Loop 410 after 1st grade, to get their children into "better" schools.  What constitutes a better school in NISD, is all based on perception.  Lower income areas are assumed to have worse schools solely based on their location.

Proponents of school district consolidation, like State Rep. Roland Gutierrez, believe that a consolidated district administration would lead to effiencies that would lower costs. But Mike Falick, a trustee for Spring Branch ISD, says
I have yet to find any [empirical data] that would suggest consolidation in Texas would lead to greater efficiency or effectiveness in the delivery of education to Texas's 4.3 million students.  Indeed, the data I found from other states shows that efficiency and effectiveness are negative correlates to consolidation.
I am interested in any data that supports consolidation by showing improvements in the effectiveness and efficiency in the delivery of education. If you are aware of any such data, please email me or post a comment with the information.

The article was written in 2005, so far, no one has posted any comments.

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