By Lance Mihm
Marion Local and St. Henry as one school district? The Cardinals and the Wildcats united? Could that ever work?
Many local school administrators say no way, but 78th District State Rep. Derrick Seaver wants to find out if it would save money to consolidate schools in Ohio.
Seaver, R-Minster, is proposing legislation Friday to the Ohio House of Representatives that will call for a six-member committee to study consolidating school districts and their services throughout Ohio.
"It's my belief when you have a higher number of school districts you have a higher number of administrative costs," Seaver said of his proposal. "Ohio's massive number of individual school districts leads me to believe that we can save large amounts of money by consolidating services, administrative costs and transportation."
If passed, the legislation would give the committee one year to do the study. Seaver did not have any specific examples of where he thought consolidation would be beneficial. "We will not restrict what they can or cannot study, but my ultimate belief is that the final report will be to consolidate just services," Seaver said.
But he did cite Indiana, which has county school districts, as a successful example of consolidation.
"We need to think outside of the box," he said, referring to fixing Ohio's school funding problems. "Ohio has 612 school districts, which is one of the highest numbers in the union."
Several area administrators said they would not want to combine their districts, but did like the idea that Seaver was looking into school funding problems.
"More and more we are heading into times when school districts will be required to be more fiscally responsible," Celina Superintendent Fred Wiswell said. "I think that studying the issue is very important ... I'm sure there will be concerns with the rural districts, and the subject is going to become increasingly controversial. I think how it is communicated and approached will make a big difference in how it is accepted."
St. Marys Superintendent Ken Baker said he was impressed with Seaver's willingness to approach the issue.
"Obviously, we cannot continue with the school funding issue in its current form," Baker said. "It's nice to see someone get the ball rolling on the school funding issue."
Baker said a critical issue with consolidating schools would be the loss of identity.
"You have traditional rivalries and all of a sudden they would be joined together," Baker said. "I'm sure there would be some problems if Marion Local and St. Henry suddenly became the Marion Local-St. Henry school district for example. New Bremen and Minster would be another potential prime example."
New Bremen Superintendent Larry Smith said legislators would need to look at educational, social and cultural aspects of consolidating.
"It's been shown time and time again that the smaller schools are more successful," he added.
Minster Superintendent Hal Belcher agreed.
"It seems to me that if you make the school districts larger, we are only going to have the same problems as the larger school districts," he said. "It didn't seem to help the last time they consolidated schools back in the 1950s."
Several small township schools were consolidated in the '50s.
Fort Recovery Superintendent David Riel said there are plenty of things to study.
"You have to weigh finances against tradition and history," he said. "There are a lot of schools going through the same issues on a lower scale right now and closing school buildings. When you have to close a school, it often causes emotional concerns. You are going to have two superintendents and suddenly just one. You would be meshing five school board members. There will be lots of difficult issues but I am willing to look at all possibilities. We obviously can't continue down the same path."
St. Henry superintendent Rod Moorman said consolidating schools would not fix the school funding problem.
"We don't have a funding problem in the state of Ohio," he said. "We have a spending problem. They need to look at what is more important. Do we cut education or do we cut something else?"
If the legislation is passed, the committee would issue a report within one year that would include an economic impact study and a plan of implementation.
The legislation says the committee of three state representatives and three state senators would not be compensated above their regular pay for doing the study, Seaver said.