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Oklahoma school consolidation bill shot down after protesters gather at Capitol

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OKLAHOMA CITY - A bill dealing with the consolidation of some K-8 school districts was defeated in committee Monday morning.

There was no school because of President’s Day, so hundreds of kids, parents and faculty members flooded the courthouse in protest of House Bill 2824.

The measure, written by Rep. Lee Denney, would have consolidated K-8 districts with a D or F rating with nearby independent school districts.

K-8 supporters hailed today’s defeat as a victory and said for now, their schools are safe.

“Absolutely thrilled.  I’m so thrilled and I think that the impact of all the people that are here today caught the attention of some of our representatives who thought we might need to rethink this and see what we’re doing,” said Gina Musay, a counselor at Darlington Schools, a K-8 district near El Reno.

“Conventional wisdom won out.  There are no savings in it.  There is quality in K-8.  There is capacity in K-8,” said Roland Smith, superintendent of Lane Schools, a K-8 district in Atoka County in southeast Oklahoma.

Inside the jam packed committee room, Rep. Denney defended her bill.

“It’s not about closing schools one bit.  It’s about reducing the number of school districts and some of the overhead we have,” said Rep. Denney.

Other representatives brought up the harm they thought this bill could cause.

“There’s something scary about doing away with a local board.  This is democracy at its best,” said Rep. Ed Cannaday.

In the end, the bill was defeated 8 to 3.

“I’m very appreciative of the legislators coming out and saving our rural schools because it truly is about saving a site, saving a district,” said John Cox, president of the Organization of Rural Elementary Schools.

“It is an amazing feeling that we still have control of our schools,” said Cheryl Garrison, superintendent of Darlington Public School.

Representative Denney says this is not the end of the discussion though, noting there are several other bills out there concerning school consolidation.

“I’m disappointed but I understand the voracity of people not wanting their schools to change,” said Rep. Denney.  “We need to get more stakeholders to the table and have a more concerted effort across all fronts on what we think should be done with school consolidation.”

Supporters of K-8 schools are hoping lawmakers with similar bills, though, will pay attention to today’s outcome.