ERIC Identifier: ED296817 Publication Date: 1988-01-00
Author: Rincones, Rodolfo Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Rural Education and Small Schools Las Cruces NM.
Exploring Alternatives to Consolidation. ERIC Digest.
School reorganization has been used extensively as a strategy to deal
with the problems of small and rural schools. However, there is no comprehensive
information to prove that consolidation has met the problems for which it has
been advocated--those of finance, staff, facilities, and curriculum.
Reorganization has, in fact, not succeeded in several districts due to
geographical limitations or to the fact that in some communities the environment
of the small school is preferred (Edington, 1976). Consequently, attention
should be given to alternative strategies for school reorganization which could
bring quality education to students living in sparsely populated areas.
WHY ARE ALTERNATIVES TO SCHOOL REORGANIZATION NEEDED?
Schools are basic elements in rural and small communities. They are not only
places where children receive education and interact with youngsters from
different religious and socioeconomic backgrounds, but they also serve as
community centers. In many cases, because of a large payroll, schools often
provide an important economic base for the community. As a result, the school
generates involvement and enjoys a great deal of support from members of the
community (Jess, 1984).
Even though disagreement exists over the social and economic effects that a
school closure may cause, it is commonly acknowledged that, after consolidation,
regret and a feeling of frustration among members of the community will persist.
Some studies have asserted that, after a school closure, out-migration,
population decline and neighborhood deterioration are set in motion, and support
for public education diminishes (Andrews and others, 1974).
Although school consolidation has often been seen as a cure for the problems
faced by small schools, consolidation's disadvantages and ill-effects on the
community have not usually been considered, and residents' objections have
frequently been ignored (Monk and Haller, 1986). There are several alternatives
to full consolidation which can help to ameliorate this situation.
WHAT ARE SOME FORMS OF PARTIAL SCHOOL REORGANIZATION?
Partial school reorganization is one alternative to complete reorganization.
It allows a middle-of-the-road response to problems originated by decreasing
enrollments, tight budgets, and increased federal and state demands to provide
students living in isolated areas equal access to education. It provides an
organizational structure, and assumes several forms which--if the restructuring
is found inappropriate--can readily be changed back to the preexisting
situation. Three types of partial reorganization follow.
CENTRAL HIGH SCHOOL DISTRICTS
Central or regional high school districts arise when two or more school
districts combine their high school programs and retain separate elementary
Some of the advantages of this strategy are as follows (Monk and Haller,
--It facilitates reorganization where objections to consolidation are strong.
--It is directed toward the most problematic level of the school: the secondary
level. --Parents can continue to control elementary education, which is of most
concern to them. --Only older students are bused.
Cluster or union districts involve the sharing and provision of services by
separate neighboring school districts, with certain academic programs thereby
being made accessible to the students of different schools. Clustering can be
implemented in a wide variety of settings and can address a range of needs. It
usually involves more organization than is the case for other types of shared
services and is initiated by local school boards. The local boards may, for
example, select a superintendent who spends some time in one district and some
time in another. Students from one district may be sent temporarily to another
school for specific activities. Clusters have been formed around science
programs and materials, microcomputers, staff development, and in-service for
EXCHANGE OF STUDENTS FOR TUITION
This practice consists of sending high school students to neighboring school
districts or even across state lines. Monk and Haller (1986) have concluded that
this practice can be facilitated through state intervention by tying the tuition
a receiving district charges to the difference between its costs and the
increased level of state aid the higher enrollment generates. The advantage for
small districts is that they avoid the cost of operating their own high school,
and, depending on the wealth of their neighboring community, the tuition cost
can be relatively modest.
WHAT ARE OTHER TYPES OF SHARED SERVICES AND RESOURCES?
Neighboring school districts may, on a formal or informal basis, agree to
share personnel, programs, and equipment to provide needed services to students.
Sharing allows school districts to remain separate while gaining additional
curricular programs of higher quality. It also lets the community keep its own
high schools and consequently its own identity and vitality. Through shared
services, a comprehensive educational program can be made available even though
the school is not very comprehensive in its offerings (Hanuske, 1983).
Instructional materials, teachers, equipment, ancillary services,
transportation, staff development, counseling services, special education, and
vocational education can be shared.
Some of the advantages of sharing have been identified as follows (Hanuske,
--Program offerings can be secured and often expanded. --A balanced faculty
is maintained and the academic expertise increases. --It enables schools to
comply with federal mandates. --Transportation facilities can be shared.
--Expenditures can be decreased through joint purchasing. --It increases
community cooperation and support, a sense of local autonomy, teacher retention,
and school district stability.
Two forms of sharing are sharing through a state organizational structure and
voluntary inter-district sharing.
SHARING THROUGH A STATE ORGANIZATIONAL STRUCTURE
This type of sharing generally includes a special intermediary system
mediated through what are often called educational service agencies, educational
operatives, boards of cooperative educational services (BOCES), and regional
consortia (Brodinsky, 1981). In most cases, these agencies are mandated,
approved and directed by the state departments of education. The function of
such intermediaries is to facilitate the sharing of services and resources among
These agencies may have two functions. The educational function provides the
mechanism whereby two or more school districts can share specialized courses,
teachers, support staff, or instructional materials. The non-academic function
facilitates the sharing of services such as purchasing, warehousing, or data
VOLUNTARY INTER-DISTRICT SHARING
This is a voluntary arrangement made by two or more school districts to share
services, programs, or resources. The less formalized structure of this
arrangement enables the school to maintain its identity and autonomy. An
intermediary agency is not involved and this form of sharing differs from
cluster districts in that resources and services are shifted from school to
school, instead of students being brought to central learning places.
WHAT ARE SOME OTHER HELPFUL APPROACHES?
Some strategies can be implemented at the local level with state help to
design reorganization alternatives suited to local conditions. These are
appropriate when partial school reorganization cannot be implemented due to
economic or geographic reasons.
--State intervention and state financial aid. State intervention in school
districts can take several forms, as described by Monk and Haller (1986). They
indicate that the state could intervene through a "counting votes system" that
would reflect the feeling of each individual community involved in the process
Another intervention strategy is to design a system for informing the public,
prior to a reorganization effort, about how the new governing board will be
integrated, and the new school structured.
Monk and Haller also suggest creating, at the state level, special "necessity
aid" to be included in the operating formula. These funds would be given to
school districts operating under special economic circumstances, so that
consolidation would not have to occur.
--Multiple teacher certification. Observers have suggested that certification
standards for those teachers working in small and rural schools be changed to
provide for a more general preparation, or certification in a number of areas
(Gardener and Edington, 1982). Multiple certification would have the advantages
of an increased retention of teachers and reduction of the teacher shortage by
increasing the number of subjects a single teacher could teach. The greater the
versatility of teachers, the less likelihood there is that reorganization would
be implemented for reasons of curriculum enhancement or concerns over quality.
Efforts have already been made to implement programs of dual certification in
elementary and special education (Steinmiller and Bell, 1986).
--Application of computer modeling results. This technique has been recently
applied to simulate the effects of different population trends, financial
factors, and other elements on the school district. The simulation allows the
decisionmakers to make use of all the information available in the district and
be able to plan ahead for needed changes. In particular, the Multiple
Alternatives Model (MAM) was developed to evaluate schools for the potential
benefits to the district of temporary versus permanent closure (Wholeben, 1984).
--Community designed reorganizations. This design calls for a wide
participation of the community in the process of deciding the governance and
structure of a school district before any referendum for consolidation is
passed. This approach may provide flexibility for local boards to design
organizational structures which meet local needs.
One way to provide this kind of participation is forming "Planning and
Transition Boards" (Monk and Haller, 1986). These boards are formed by a
majority vote in the participating communities. If board formation is then
approved, the next step is to appoint members to it. The board is then
responsible for formulating the plan for the new structure as well as for
presenting it to the voters. Once the plan is approved, the board takes action
to implement it. If the plan is disapproved, the board is dissolved and the
districts involved remain separate.
HOW IS EDUCATIONAL TECHNOLOGY AN ALTERNATIVE?
Often called distance education, educational technology comprises an
alternative strategy for offering instruction. The learning takes place when the
student is physically remote from the instructor or learns primarily from
materials developed elsewhere. Educational technology makes it possible for
small schools to have access to a broader range of information and curricular
offerings, so that learning opportunities can be expanded without a need for
consolidation. The most common options combine audioteleconference with
microcomputers, or interactive television which integrates satellite,
fiberoptics, microwave, cable, slowscan TV, or instructional television fixed
services (ITFS) technologies (Barker, 1987).
Different alternative strategies are available for local school boards and
school administrators to use to solve the problems of rural and small school
districts without resorting to full-scale reorganization. These approaches
enable communities to retain the advantages of smallness while providing a
quality education for their children.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Andrews, Richard L., and Others. "Managing Contracting Systems: Three Policy
Alternatives." Paper presented at the Annual Conference of the American
Educational Research Association, New York, NY, March 1982. ED 221 947.
Barker, Bruce O. INTERACTIVE DISTANCE LEARNING TECHNOLOGIES FOR RURAL AND
SMALL SCHOOLS: A RESOURCE GUIDE. ERIC Mini-Review. Las Cruces, NM: ERIC
Clearinghouse on Rural Education and Small Schools, 1987. ED 286 698.
Brodinsky, Ben. DECLINING ENROLLMENT-CLOSING SCHOOLS: PROBLEMS AND SOLUTIONS.
Arlington, VA: American Association of School Administration Critical Report.
1981. ED 212 053.
Edington, Everett D. STRENGTHENING THE SMALL RURAL SCHOOL. Las Cruces, NM:
ERIC Clearinghouse on Rural Education and Small Schools, 1976. ED 115 408.
Gardener, Clark, and Everett D. Edington. THE PREPARATION AND CERTIFICATION
OF TEACHERS FOR RURAL AND SMALL SCHOOLS. Las Cruces, NM: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Rural Education and Small Schools, 1982. ED 223 396.
Hanuske, Sarah. SHARED SERVICES FOR RURAL AND SMALL SCHOOLS. Las Cruces, NM:
ERIC Clearinghouse on Rural Education and Small Schools, 1983. ED 259 874.
Jess, James D. "Rural Education 1984: Issues and Impacting Forces. A Local
Perspective." Paper presented at the National Conference on Building
Partnerships for Quality Education in Rural America. Washington, DC, 1984. ED
Monk, David H., and Emil J. Haller. ORGANIZATIONAL ALTERNATIVES FOR
SMALL/RURAL SCHOOLS: FINAL REPORT TO THE NEW YORK STATE LEGISLATURE. New York,
NY: Cornell University, 1986. ED 281 694.
Steinmiller, Georgine, and David Bell. A TIMELY OPTION FOR RURAL EDUCATION:
DUAL CERTIFICATION FOR SPECIAL/ELEMENTARY EDUCATION. Columbia, MO: Mid-American
ATE, Mini-Clinic, 1986. ED 277 529.
Wholeben, Brent. "Modeling Elementary and Secondary Schools Closures through
MAM." Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the International Society for
Educational Planning. New Orleans, LA. 1984. ED 254 919.