School district consolidation is the key to many of Pennsylvania’s education problems, according to State Rep. Timothy S. Mahoney (D-Fayette/Somerset). Mahoney recently proposed legislation requesting a statewide study of schools that would examine the possibility of merging Pennsylvania school districts into individual county administrations.
The proposition stems from Mahoney’s study in 2011 that examined the effects of a potential merger of Fayette County school districts.
“I think there’s a lot of waste, a lot of duplication of services in all these school districts across the state, so I got funding to do a study for Fayette County and their six school districts,” said Mahoney, “and it came back that it’s a minimum of $20 million a year of savings to taxpayers.”
The consolidation of the six districts would have allowed for the reduction in administration staff, transportation and food service costs, and the closure of underused school buildings, among other school operations.
By proposing the statewide study, Mahoney wants to examine similar consolidation options for school districts across the state. His eventual goal is to create single county administrations within all 67 PA counties, each with its own school board and superintendent.
The possibility of laying off administrators has been a main concern. The study in Fayette County found that if the individual districts had operated at the same student-to-professional staff ratio (not student-to-teacher ratio) in 2009-10 that they did in 2003-04, 108 fewer staffers would have been needed, saving the districts approximately $7.1 million – staffers that would be eliminated in the case of a merger. Mahoney recognizes this employment concern, but he believes it’s necessary to improve Pennsylvania’s education system.
“I just think that people need to keep an open mind on change,” he said. “We just have to face that we’re not doing this right.”
Mahoney also recognizes that some fear a loss of individual district identity if consolidation were to happen. Citing other nearby states with similar county school systems, enrollment at elementary and middle schools may change, he said, but students would still attend their local high schools, preserving a sense of school spirit within the county administration.
“They do this is in Virginia and Maryland where they have seven to 11 school districts in one county … but they’re all their own identity, just like they are in Pennsylvania, but they’re administrated by one administration,” said Mahoney.
Mahoney said education is a top priority for him, and consolidation is his first step in tackling other pressing issues in Pennsylvania schools, such as the biased hiring of faculty and student drug and alcohol abuse.
“Hopefully we can do something with consolidation that addresses all of this at one time,” he said. “The whole system’s broke. We need to address the whole system.”