OKLAHOMA CITY – Educators and parents of students in rural school districts said they are afraid a bill to consolidate school districts and save money will destroy the positive communities they have created.
House Bill 2824, authored by Speaker Pro Tempore Lee Denney (R-Cushing), allows the State Board of Education to consider consolidating some of the state’s rural elementary schools, eliminating some administrative positions.
The leaders of those schools estimate it would cut at least $9 million in administrative salaries.
“It’s not just about the money,” said Oakdale Public Schools Superintendent Kim Lanier, who would likely lose his job if his district were consolidated. “Our bottom line is not measured in dollars and cents. The bottom line is we’re here to educate.”
The bill authorizes the board to publish a list every six years including all elementary school districts that are eligible for consolidation.
Schools could only become exempt if they receive an average grade of B- or higher on the annual school reports or if each school site in the district is located more than 30 miles from the closest school site of another district.
No buildings would be required to be closed.
Multiple superintendents would not be allowed.
“I don’t agree with this at all. I don’t think it’s the answer,” said Melissa LeClaire, a mother of eight children, five of whom attend the South Rock Creek school in Shawnee. “I just worry about schools already being crowded, and I just don’t think it’s the right answer.”
LeClaire likes things the way they are now.
Oakdale’s superintendent said the rural elementary district system is successful.
Lanier said generally smaller class sizes are a plus, as are mentoring opportunities between middle school and high school students.
And, when those students move on to high school, Lanier said they are generally able to pick the school that fits them best.
“It’s tough to mess with success,” he said. “We’ve had a lot of success doing what we’re doing, so it’s a threat to close us down. I think it’s a bigger threat to just public education in general.”
Lanier and other superintendents said they understand the state’s serious budget hole but feel the amount saved on teacher salaries would be a drop in the bucket of a $1.3 billion shortfall.
Parents have been signing a petition and plan to show up at the capitol Monday morning when the bill hits committee at 10:30 a.m.
“It is that important to us,” LeClaire said, adding it’s an issue worth fighting for. ” K-8 means our world. It’s our community. It’s our sense of involvement, our teachers, our administrators.”