A big irony of Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback's quest to root out inefficiencies in school spending and direct more dollars to the classroom is his stated opposition to what might be the biggest inefficiency of all — too many school districts. And that seemingly makes school district consolidation off limits for his School Efficiency Task Force when it should be a top focus.
The task force is creating plenty of controversy even without consolidation on the table. With partisan politics and combative education interests swirling in the background, Hutchinson's Ken Willard has his hands full as chairman of the task force.
Brownback's first misstep was assembling a task force stocked full of accountants but without a single school administrator or teacher. He appeared to try to rectify that this week with the addition of Iola schools Superintendent Brian Pekarek. Good move.
It is curious why Brownback isn't interested in looking at school district consolidation. Speculation is that Brownback, who was raised in small-town Parker, is protective of schools in small towns. That is the fear of many whenever the words "school consolidation" are uttered. But that should be differentiated from school district consolidation, which could happen without a single school building closing its doors.
Kansas has 306 school districts, which is about three per county, when Kansas also has way too many counties. Besides that pie chart Brownback is carting around the state showing that only 54 percent of tax dollars to schools are getting into the classroom, he should promote another statistic: Kansas has 3,807 units of government, which ranks fourth-highest per capita in the U.S.
Getting into county consolidations could be tricky, but the state clearly has a big stake in the bureaucracy of its public education system. If Brownback's goal is to reduce administrative costs so more dollars can go into classroom teaching, he's ignoring the white elephant in the room. The administrative costs that are duplicated by having so many small school districts are an opportunity for savings.
Maybe school district consolidation is a whole other task force. But Brownback can hardly get serious about efficiency unless he considers it.
-- The Hutchinson News