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LETTER TO THE EDITOR: School consolidation: A lose/lose proposition

In response to the multiple SNAP articles concerning consolidating our school system, I would like to point out the severe fallacies in the arguments to do so.

Let’s begin by analyzing the recent article comparing Stanly County Schools with Rowan/Salisbury, Montgomery County and Robeson County (Aug. 10-11 edition).

To start with, the comparisons are akin to comparing apples and watermelons. Not only are the geographical areas, economic realities and demographics significantly different in each of these systems, our SCS is outperforming the others now, with our community schools. Let’s look at rating these systems with ours based on high school rankings from Schooldigger.com. (2018 data)

From Best to Worst (High school data only)

1. Stanly County Schools with an effective system rank of 290 (without Gray Stone). SCS has a high school population of 2,322 students, with 44.7 percent receiving free and reduced lunches.

2. Montgomery County Schools with an effective system rank of 293.5 is a close second, but they also have small community high schools as of this data. Montgomery has a high school population of 1,222, with 62.9 percent receiving free and reduced lunches.

3. Rowan/Salisbury Schools with an effective system rank of 324.1 is performing much less effectively than SCS and has a high school population of 6,025 students, of which 52.88 percent are on free reduced lunch programs.

4. Robeson County comes in a dead and distant last place in academic ranking with an effective system rank of 370 in the state, with a huge high school population of 6,760 students and a mind-boggling percentage of kids on free and reduced lunches of 95.6 percent.

You simply cannot reasonably compare SCS to these systems, but if you do, we are academically more effective.

Why would you want to damage our schools in the name of consolidation?

There is empirical evidence that consolidation hurts academic achievement as detailed in IZA.org research. Their study found: “We find that school consolidation has adverse effects on achievement in the short run and that these effects are most pronounced for students exposed to school closings. Furthermore, students initially enrolled in small schools experience the most detrimental effects.”

The bottom line is you may get some pretty new building and a ton of new taxes to pay off that 40-year loan, but academics suffer.

Another faux argument being put forth by the consolidation crowd is that property values and therefore revenues would go up with consolidated schools. This is actually an urban legend as research from AASA.org found the opposite to be true.

Other studies all found that consolidation in smaller communities decreases property values and deflates revenues.

The following is from the AASA findings: “Some evidence on these issues comes from two recent studies of the impact of consolidation on housing prices. These studies estimate whether people are willing to pay more for housing in a district after it consolidates. Using data from Ohio, David Brasington, writing in the September 2004 issue of The Journal of Real Estate Finance and Economics, found that, after controlling for student performance and property tax rates, consolidation lowers property values by about $3,000 on average.”

Fancy new schools, but a reduced property tax base to pay for them will guarantee increased property tax rates. Our seniors and families living on fixed incomes cannot sustain this burden.

Finally, and the most critical of all reasons to adamantly oppose consolidated schools, is quite simple: It hurts the most vulnerable kids when you close their local community schools.

There is a plethora of studies available, and I will gladly share them all with anyone that asks, that show the harm. Some of the societal ills that consolidation creates include increased substance abuse and truancy on the part of fragile students. Participation in sports and other extracurriculars drops dramatically for those students from closed schools.

The most damning consequence, however, is that dropout rates and suicide attempts increase dramatically in children uprooted from their community schools. Some research backing these assertions can be found at NEPC.colorado.edu.

This same study reveals that the alleged economic benefits of consolidation quite often never materialize at all. The gains in efficiency are lost to increased transportation costs, damage to local communities and the increased capital costs (buildings and upkeep).

In conclusion, I hope and pray every citizen in Stanly County will stop buying the hype that spending $100,000,000 on new consolidated schools is some magical pill that will improve education.

It won’t, and in fact will damage our schools, our communities and worst of all, the children.

Just say no to consolidation, Stanly. It’s a lose/lose proposition.

Bill Sorenson,
South Stanly High School teacher