Path Home Shows 2015 Show Archive November 2015 Show 1547 Consolidation Is Not the Answer

Consolidation Is Not the Answer

Budget cuts could cause consolidation of small schools around the state.
Consolidation Is Not the Answer

Consolidation Is Not the Answer

For more information visit this link:

Oklahoma Department of Education

Show Details

Show 1547: Consolidation Is Not the Answer
Air Date: November 22, 2015



Rob McClendon: Hello, everyone. Thanks for joining us here on “Horizon.” Well, in the face of an ever-tightening state budget, there are calls all over Oklahoma to prepare for cutbacks, and one area that is often targeted during belt-tightening times is our rural schools, the thought being by consolidating smaller separate school districts you can cut down on administrative costs. And while the push for school consolidation is currently not as great as in years past, what we do know is that every cut at the state Capitol translates into some type of cut on the local level, which could make many of our rural schools less viable, consolidation or not. Our Blane Singletary traveled to two small districts on opposite sides of the state to see how they keep their classrooms funded in small town America.

Blane Singletary: This is Morrison, a community just east of Perry, a small town at 733 people according to the most recent census data, but it’s growing.

Phil Berkenbile: Every year it seems like we’re adding about 10 new houses throughout the district.

Blane: That’s Phil Berkenbile, board president of Morrison Public Schools, though that title barely does him justice.

Berkenbile: I’ve been the ag teacher, the adjunct principal, I’ve been a parent, I’ve been the superintendent, and when I retired from CareerTech, I went on the school board and lucky enough.

Blane: He’s been involved with the school district in some capacity since 1972. At that time, the district served roughly 228 students. Today, that number is projected to be closer to 600 kids, from pre-K to 12th grade. And when it comes to accommodating that growth, this community is more than happy to oblige. For instance, take a look at this new grade school building, built courtesy of a public bond issue.

Berkenbile: It passed by, I think it was either 91 or 90 percent, which was a mandate from the people that they wanted this.

Blane: And even after passing it, in exchange for a tax increase, people still wanted to help in any way they could.

Berkenbile: We’ve had help from the county commissioners and local contractors, local farmers to get it done, and this is a state-of-the-art facility, as you can see a Promethean board.

Blane: This new facility is furnished with the latest in educational technology. When this building was in the planning stages, Berkenbile asked teachers to dream big when it came to what this small district needed.

Berkenbile: And we asked the teachers to go look at places, and they went to Perry and Oologah and Enid and all these other communities and said, “Here’s what we want.”

Blane: He says this individualized approach to local projects is what sets them apart from those bigger districts. And they’re able to do that primarily with help from the community, not the state.

Berkenbile: It also gives us the ability to turn on a dime. If somebody comes up and says, “Hey, we need to put in another class of STEM,” we go out, and we do that, and we find somebody who wants to put in $2,000 or $3,000, and we go buy an unmanned drone for our science classes.

Blane: That same individualized approach also extends to their students, especially those with special needs.

Berkenbile: We take care of all our kids. A student that has a speech problem or something like that, we can put them in a program, work directly with them one-on-one.

Blane: And when a family moves to Morrison, adjusting from the hustle and bustle of a bigger city to the general peace and quiet here, Berkenbile, along with the community, is more than happy to help there, too.

Berkenbile: We have people that have moved in from Tulsa, we have people that have moved in from Kansas, and they already will tell you that they feel like they’re part of the community. They’re involved in several organizations as parents, and their kids are involved. They’re not left out. They’re not thought of as an outsider.

Blane: It’s through community leaders like Phil Berkenbile that Morrison and its small school district have remained welcoming, self-sufficient and prosperous in their own right. So when the c-word -- consolidation -- comes up, Morrison school Superintendent Jay Vernon takes issue.

Jaye Vernon: You know, the smaller the school, the more cheering goes on to let’s consolidate it. But you have a community that is, uh, they’re paying their taxes, too. Those communities need to be allowed to do what they want to do.

Blane: Vernon says one of the major issues the students in a consolidated district will face would be travel.

Vernon: Whether we consolidate part of our district with Pawnee, Glencoe, Stillwater, Perry and Frontier being our closest neighboring school districts, we’d have kids that would be traveling 40 miles, possibly, you know, to school one-way.

Blane: On top of all that, given the large amount of local aid they receive, Vernon says consolidating small districts like Morrison doesn’t make sense from a state budget standpoint.

Vernon: Are we draining the state? We’re bringing in more local money than what we’re receiving in state aid. I think that part needs to be given a little bit more publicity that a lot of these smaller schools, maybe they’ve got 40 or 50 high school kids, but they’re not getting any state aid. It’s all right there local. We need to be aware of that more as a state.

Blane: For another example of that, we head down south. Past Oklahoma City and almost to Lawton, we find the town of Cyril. The school district here is even smaller – serving roughly 388 students and employing about 50 people. But what it lacks in size, it makes up for in pride, as Superintendent Jamie Mitchell puts it.

Jamie Mitchell: Cyril is this wonderful little magical town. I came here six years ago, knew nothing really about western Oklahoma. This community is very supportive, and they really stand behind their students. They stand behind their school, and this school means everything to this community.

Blane: The whole town bleeds blue and white down to the street signs on every intersection. And they’re also willing to bleed green if need be.

Mitchell: Financially, whenever we need to raise a little bit of money to send the kids somewhere, to buy new uniforms, we, you know, have to turn over a few rocks, but the money’s always there. You know, someone’s always going to be able to come up with something.

Blane: And in turn, the district is able to get to know each and every student on a personal level.

Mitchell: We excel in giving students hands-on. We know our students’ home life. We can tell from the moment that they walk in the door that they’re good day, bad day, and it’s very special relationships that we’re able to build with our students.

Blane: A relationship that would be lost in a larger or consolidated school district. That’s what all these education leaders agree is the biggest strength in these smallest numbers. Again, Phil Berkenbile.

Berkenbile: We’ve got a good board, we’ve got good teachers, we’ve got good administrators, we’ve got a tremendous staff. We’ve known each other a long time in a lot of cases, and we’re not afraid to sit down and say what we think or what we feel and work out the problem.

Blane: And as Jay Vernon says, a heaping helping of small town pride doesn’t hurt.

Vernon: You know, you’re gonna have more of your friends, family, neighbors, etc., that are gonna share in, you know, just in the pride of what your community has produced. Everybody has that sense of pride. It’s very important for a community to support their school.