The Jeffersonian: Politicks, Sports, and Culture

Thursday, December 01, 2005

I Want My Own School District!

Now with the Texas Supreme Court ruling on our school finance system, it seems that the House Public Education committee can finally decide what they need to look at:

State lawmakers will consider touching the political hot potato of school consolidation as they study ways to improve public education before a June 1 deadline imposed last week by state Supreme Court justices.

The House Public Education Committee decided Wednesday to look at school consolidation and nine other issues affecting public education.

Texas is carved into 1,031 independent school districts ranging from 211,499 students in Houston to 10 students in Kerr County's Divide School District.

But a Texas Supreme Court ruling declaring the state's public school funding system unconstitutional obligates lawmakers to make significant changes, the House panel's chairman, Rep. Kent Grusendorf, R-Arlington, said.

He cited several court observations sympathetic to school consolidation, including one from Justice Nathan Hecht contained in the 7-1 majority opinion.

"Districts are firmly entrenched and powerfully resistant to meaningful change, and while matters have improved somewhat over the past century, the number of school districts has not declined significantly in the past two decades," Hecht wrote.

"That's a pretty direct indication that we need to be talking about that issue," Grusendorf said of school consolidation.


Texas lawmakers are under court order to fix the school funding system by June 1. The court ruled that the school property tax has become a statewide property tax, which the state Constitution prohibits.

Rep. Harold Dutton, D-Houston, will chair a subcommittee to explore school district consolidation. He asked whether San Antonio needs 17 school districts, suggesting that a 15-minute drive on one of the city's major freeways "passes through seven school districts."

The number of San Antonio school districts cited by Dutton is inflated, Northside School District board member Katie Reed said later, because it includes three military school districts functioning more like private schools.

First, let's talk about Northside School District board member, and Texas Association of School Boards President, Katie Reed's mindless correction. Was there anyone out there who read this and was absolutely stunned that we have 17 school districts, but then mollified at the fact that it could be construed as only 14 school districts? I don't think the equilibrium in that argument is somewhere between 14 and 17 school districts Ms. Reed. There's probably a pretty convincing argument to be made that the only reason we have this many school districts is to sate the appetites of alot of wannabes pols who'd like to hold an office. As you can tell, I'm all for school district consolidation.

But alot of the parties involved in the interview seems to be talking past each other. There's a difference between school consolidation and school district consolidation. I don't think many, if any, schools in San Antonio would be closed down if we consolidated into one countywide school district because so many of the schools are already overcrowded.

And while one can argue that smaller school districts can provide greater accountability and a more intimate education atmosphere, one can also argue that alot more money could be put towards teaching the students through consolidating all the administrative and support functions. Plus school district consolidation could, at least on some level, provide a shade of equity. Although that would only happen if there were school districts with varying levels property wealth that would be consolidated. If everyone's in a property poor district, that'd be near impossible to do.

Which is also why I think they should be taking a look at a statewide property tax, but that's a discussion for another time.