New school board member Mary Kay Bacallao has taken a stance against closing Fayette schools, and has been spreading around various studies which may cast some doubt on how much money can be saved by consolidating schools within a system of Fayette's size.
Bacallao has said publicly that she wants the school board to look at any other possible step toward closing the $15 million budget gap, for example: eliminating thirty work days out of the summer schedule as well as summer school programs; closing the welcome center and distributing those duties to the school; and reducing staff at schools where it is out of proportion with the student population.
The problem for the school system is that the State Department of Education has made it clear the county has too much class room space, around 400 excess classrooms. Interim Superintendent Dan Colwell has said the state is watching Fayette's situation closely and expect the 2013-14 budget to be balanced by the end of June, when it must be approved.
The plan to close four schools--Fayette Intermediate, Fayette Middle, Tyrone Elementary and Brooks Elementary--would save a projected $3.2 million, while also filling the remaining schools at numbers more in line with the state's expectations.
Many have questioned the estimate of $800 thousand per school closure, and Bacallao believes many studies show a lack of evidence for considerable cost savings from school consolidation.
A simple google search on 'school size' or 'school district consolidation' will yield plenty of studies and analyses, as countless other communities have faced similar decisions that now face Fayette.
The issue has typically been analyzed from two angles: what is the cost/efficiency benefit of consolidating schools. and how does consolidation impact student performance?
One study sent to the other school board members by Bacallao, entitled "Effects of School Size, a Review of the Literature With Recommendations," offers some direction while also questioning some of the methods of various studies on the topic.
The study observes that the "economies of scale" often cited as a benefit of consolidation can only be realized up to a point, after which larger and larger schools may become more and more expensive per student, not less. The tipping point given, however, is 1,000 students. For the Elementary schools in particular, the plan would be to have around 500 to 550 students per school. Bennett's Mill, with a capacity of 1,200, may eclipse that mark as it is slated to take in most of the students from Fayette Middle once it is closed.
The study also observes that the characteristics of the community and school should be kept in mind. That has been a particularly important message from parents and other residents in Tyrone and Brooks. Many have offered grim views of the economic future for each community if they were to lose those schools, as their attractiveness for businesses and home purchasers would likely suffer.
The conclusions directed to researchers in this study also question the methodology of many studies on school consolidation, which may be tainted by "advocacy" and flawed or biased statistical analysis.
Bacallao offers many of these studies, along with her top ideas to balance the budget, on her website at www.marykaybacallao.jimdo.com.
Opponents of the school closure plan will have their opportunities to offer ideas and alternatives before the School Board. Two public hearings on school closure are scheduled for Feb. 14 and 25 at 7 p.m. in Sams Auditorium. It is likely that a final vote on the matter will take place at the March 18 meeting, which will also be held at Sams.