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Posted on Sun, Aug 15, 2010 : 6:02 a.m.

Michigan could save millions by consolidating school districts, study shows

By David Jesse


Thurston Elementary School students board a waiting Ann Arbor school bus last winter. Short of consolidation, Michigan school districts could save substantial money by sharing services, such as busing.

Melanie Maxwell |

Editor's note: A research integrity committee at MSU has found professor Sharif Shakrani guilty of "academic misconduct'' for plagiarizing several paragraphs of information in the study this story is based on. The finding was based on Shakrani's use of background information without attribution and did not affect the conclusions of his study. See the story here.

This story was written and reported by Dave Murrary, Kym Reinstadler and David Jesse as part of a project by Booth Newspapers of Michigan.

Being true to our schools comes with a price - and it runs in the millions of dollars.

Michigan has 550 public districts -- and nearly that many superintendents, business managers and transportation directors. Trim that management layer, erase district boundaries and recast administration around county lines, and state taxpayers save $612 million a year after three years -- all without closing a school or losing one high school mascot.

That's the finding of a new study of school administration costs commissioned by and seven affiliated newspapers. The $612 million savings represents about 4 percent of total school budgets, or 8 percent to 11 percent of school spending once bricks-and-mortar costs are subtracted.


In Washtenaw County, getting rid of the 10 traditional school districts and reinventing them as one county district would save about $18 million.

“County boundaries are arbitrary as well,” said Saline Superintendent Scot Graden. “What we’re finding makes sense is regionalism.”

He said that’s particualry true in places where there’s a large difference between large districts with high labor costs and smaller more rural districts with lower labor costs.

But Graden also said consolidation should be looked at, especially as the number of students continues to drop.

“Consolidation just for the sake of consolidation doesn’t work,” he said. “It’s almost on a case-by-case basis.”

A less involved change, with no district boundaries erased, could save Michigan taxpayers $328 million. This "shared services" model puts all public school transportation, food service and operations and maintenance at the county level. In Washtenaw County, “shared services” would get about $7.7 million in savings.

Researchers at Michigan State University’s Education Policy Center performed the study. The newspapers sought the results amid a growing state and national debate about school consolidation and cost-cutting.

Nationally, school district consolidation advocates include the National Governors Association. Most states have recently considered reducing the number of districts. Maine, especially, has taken a hard look at consolidations to resemble countywide districts in place in Florida, Maryland and Virginia. Hawaii has a statewide district.

Michigan has the nation's fifth highest number of school districts. And with shrinking state revenues and rising legacy costs in the state, top leaders such as state Superintendent Michael Flanagan and business advocacy groups are calling for shared services.

Former state Superintendent Tom Watkins, Flanagan's predecessor, is a forceful voice for outright consolidations.

"Maybe the way things are set up now was good public policy and made sense 20 years ago, when the money was there. There's nothing wrong with paying people a nice wage and having small school districts," Watkins said. "But that's as if Ford and GM behaved as if Honda, Toyota and Hyundai didn't exist. Now there is declining enrollment and choice and charters, yet the infrastructure is operating as if nothing has changed. They need a reason better than 'We've always done it this way.'"

Ypsilanti parent Erin Toles would love to see consolidation.

“I’ve never understood why there are three school districts in the greater Ypsilanti area (Ypsilanti, Lincoln and Willow Run),” Toles said. “It doesn’t make any sense to me. All three are having big-time financial problems. Why not merge them together, save money by having one headquarters? That just makes sense to me.”

But forcing mergers on reluctant communities - or even getting school boards to agree to share services - is a political nightmare, proponents acknowledge.


Michigan schools have been funded largely based on enrollment since voters in 1994 approved the landmark school finance overhaul called Proposal A.

Districts get a minimum of $7,162 per student from the state government, though some receive a little more, a holdover from the days when each district set its own levy. Most of the state money is raised by a 6 percent sales tax and lottery proceeds.

But there are other, smaller, sources that help pay for special programs and buildings.

  • Local funding: Schools still get some funds from property taxes, collected at different levies for primary residences and second homes or commercial property. Kent and Ottawa area districts also get money collected through intermediate school district levies for special education.
  • Grant funding Most districts also receive extra state and federal money directed toward special needs, such as "at-risk" programs, or Title 1 grants to help low-income students.

"School funding isn't rational. It's political and emotional. And if you threaten cuts, people will say you're against the kids," said Watkins, who led Michigan schools from 2001 to 2005 and consults internationally in business and education.

The MSU research team, led by professor Sharif Shakrani, agreed to predict statewide savings for the two options of shared services or complete county-level consolidation into about 57 intermediate districts based largely around the lines of one county or more.

Shakrani, an expert in using research to set educational policy, said dollars are saved through economies of scale and eliminating administrative and operational redundancies.

His work doesn’t include closing any buildings or shifting any students.

“Many people hear consolidation and they think about closing schools, but that doesn't have to be the case," he said.

The MSU report discusses the political and practical turmoil that comes with forced mergers, and notes many local school leaders "abhor" the idea.

But researchers said Michigan has in place good regional educational networks: the 57 intermediate school districts drawn roughly around county lines. They were created to provide services to member districts that would be too expensive or unwieldy for local districts to offer on their own.

“In Michigan, the ISD system is greatly underutilized. While some have increased their roles to provide more services, many are passive," Shakrani said.

Washtenaw County is among the most active of the intermediate school districts, with a long list of shared services. The latest effort is the sharing of transportation services. It was originally targeted at combining all the county’s transportation services into one department, but ultimately only three districts - Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti and Willow Run - signed on for the fall.

There are some costs associated with mergers, which is why it can take up to three years to fully realize annual savings, Shakrani said. Whether annual savings are maintained becomes a policy decision for local or state leaders. For instance, some schools spend the savings to improve instruction or technology, Shakrani said.

Educational quality is another issue Shakrani addressed. Many districts, urban and rural, have high concentrations of students from low-income or impoverished families.

Reducing operating costs could help "improve the quality of education for all students," the report said. Researchers also emphasized there is a lack of consensus on whether countywide consolidation itself affects student achievement.

School consolidation has been an ongoing march in the country since the early 20th century as communities moved from one-room school houses to neighborhood schools and community districts. Michigan dropped from 7,300 districts to 4,900 in the baby boom years following World War II. The number shrank to 600 after the 1964 School District Reorganization Act.

Since 1970, the number has held near 550, leaving Michigan trailing only California, Illinois, New York and Texas in total districts. (Michigan ranks 8th in population and 11th in area.)

Consolidations most benefit small and rural districts, and more than half of Michigan's systems are below a 2,000-student threshold considered a fiscally ideal minimum, researchers said.

In all, Michigan spends more than $12 billion on public education, or more than $17 billion with federal aid included. Within three years of consolidation, savings amount to 8 percent of operating costs, 4 percent of instructional support, 15 percent of administration and 18 percent of transportation spending, the report concluded. It also added that so far, little research-based evidence exists on how consolidation impacts financial problems long-term.


Historically, Michigan township officials created schools, dividing the township into "districts" that were commonly a single school.

Baby boom era: Michigan had a wave of school district consolidations in the two decades following World War II, a time of prosperity, increasing urbanization and growing student enrollment. The number of districts declined from about 7,300 to about 4,900.

More mergers: Another wave of consolidation occurred around 1970, when inflation was rampant, enrollment was declining overall but suburban populations were growing. The number decreased from about 4,900 to almost 600.

Currently: The total has held at about 550 for 30 years, not counting charter schools. Michigan approved charter school legislation in 1994 and currently has 240 charter schools.

While the shared-services model saves half as much, it can be a more politically palatable option, researchers said.

And the study discusses opposing arguments, such as loss of community identity and history, and the fact that consolidations result in job losses that can impact a local economy. Loss of local school boards is another issue because they provide an avenue for district residents to have a say in what happens in their schools.

Most Michigan school districts "resist any efforts" toward consolidation, Shakrani said, and even if talks begin, it can take years before districts combine.

"Consolidation has a series of legal steps that include a vote of all districts involved," Shakrani said.

Only two mergers have occurred in Michigan in the past 10 years. This month, voters in the Adrian-area districts of Deerfield and Britton overwhelmingly agreed to fully unite their small districts after testing the waters by merging sports teams. The other recent merger was in the Upper Peninsula: Gogebic County's Wakefield and Marenisco.

Legislative efforts to nudge schools toward mergers have fallen flat. State Rep. Fred Miller, D-Mount Clemens, in October introduced a bill to create a committee to eye potential district mergers, modeled after a federal military base-closing process. It sits in the House Education Committee.

As state superintendent, Flanagan wants to push intermediate districts into taking on more responsibilities, under the shared-services model.

"If I could wave a wand over the state, I'd keep the local districts, but there would be a lot more done at the county level, as you see in Florida," Flanagan said. "A countywide system is going to feel so much more impersonal. You have so many places where the school district is the whole identity for the town. When they think of their schools, they have that pride, and they have a voice."

Tom White, the former chief of the Michigan School Business Officials who consulted with Shakrani on the report, said it's more realistic for districts to share services on a countywide level over a five- or 10-year period.

"I think we need to be evolutionary, rather than revolutionary, to have a plan such as this be successful in the long run," he said. "It can all happen in an orderly way, which is not to say there won't be some bumps in the road since you are dealing with people who will be losing their jobs. But if you allow things to happen more naturally, they have a better chance of sticking."

But stopping short of complete consolidation creates different challenges.

A shared-services model has gained traction in the Flint area after devastating loses of 70,000 General Motors jobs and 30,000 students. As a result, the Genesee Intermediate School District assumed business services for 12 member districts.

"There comes a point where your economies of scale are diminished," Superintendent Thomas Svitkovich said. "You have to manage budgets and conduct public hearings and provide the audits for each of the districts. And each of the districts need to file separate reports with the state and federal governments, especially if you have some districts that rely on more grant funding."

Districts also need to buy compatible software for business functions, requiring cash upfront for systems and training, said Superintendent Kevin Konarska of the Kent ISD. The district has worked toward cooperation with a shared data warehouse, a private busing contract for special education students, a teacher union contract template and more.

Flanagan said buying compatible equipment isn't a barrier, since districts routinely replace systems anyway. But he understands why school boards and communities are reluctant to lay off bookkeepers, a transportation director or secretaries to share services.

"It takes some courage,” he said. “I understand that you don't want layoffs. But we're moving toward more layoffs anyway, so you might as well keep them as far away from the classroom as you can."

In the end, merging services has benefits beyond paying the bills, Flanagan said.

Consolidation can help communities living in poverty, improving the well-being of the state. Tiny districts, for instance, "can't provide the same level of services."

Watkins said changes will have to come from Lansing. County and local educators are too close to the situation.

"If you've been in the silo all your life, you don't have the vision to see what else is out there," he said. "It's going to take someone with intestinal fortitude. You need to tell people, 'If you want to keep your Bulldogs, Colts and other things, then you're going to have to accept some of these other changes.

"When someone shows you death, you accept serious injury more readily. And like the auto industry, unless they totally revamp the way they do business, they're going to be dead."

David Jesse covers K-12 education for He can be reached at or at 734-623-2534.


Janet Delicata

Wed, Jul 3, 2013 : 5:25 p.m.

Communities need their own public school systems. I've noticed a pattern lately of discounting communities and their values. That's a huge mistake. Schools should have local control. Tight and close!

Jim Morabito

Wed, Aug 18, 2010 : 6:35 p.m.

What a great idea to consolidate schools! Where I grew up in Maryland, we had Montgomery County Public Schools (1 district for the whole county), not Rockville School District or Potomac School District... The county's schools were ranked near the top nationwide. And they were great from a student perspective. It makes so much sense to reduce the duplicate costs in support functions and gain scale. Think about how you could do a better job buying and maintaining busses (or even buy fewer) and move them from one school to another as populations shift. That sort of thing is not possible today. The money saved can be reinvested to improve classroom education or reduce budgets and taxes. I have lived it as a student and saw that it worked great. Do not fear it. P.S. Just call the districts, for example, Oakland County Schools, not Oakland County Consolidated Schools or Oakland County Integrated School District. It will sound much better and will soon seem like it has always been that way.


Wed, Aug 18, 2010 : 3:59 p.m.

this article is a sneaky piece of dren. has no place in the category of "news" and should be in "opinions". ask yourself WHY Ann Arbor has not done this and you should realize that we have one of the best school systems in the country. forget those others that went corporate. we actually care about our kids, actually.


Tue, Aug 17, 2010 : 1:54 p.m.

This is an excellent report and one that is long overdue. Unfortunately, the ones who are best suited to make this happen are the very ones who stand to lose the most...local district superintendents. Other states that have undertaken significant reform in their public educational systems have almost universally adopted county or regional districting. This action has freed millions of dollars to invest in other reforms which have been shown to produce significant gains in educational outcomes, specifically reduced class sizes. $600 million would hire a significant number of classroom teachers who do far more to impact educational outcomes than a few thousand school administrators, who teach no one!


Mon, Aug 16, 2010 : 10:39 p.m.

Rather than just showing the number of school disticts per state, I would like to see educational outcome data for individual states that compares states with a large number of districts to those with fewer districts. The problem is that there is no one way to measure and compare states. Often one indicator that is used is the ACT test; however, this data is not a good standard to use. ALL students in Michigan are required to take the ACT; therefore, that means even students who are not college bound are required to take the test. Other states do not have this requirement, so only students who are college bound take it. As a result, you will see state-mandated states often have a lower state score. This is the same thing that happens when you compare countries. We are privileged in this nation that all students have the opportunity to receive an education - and that means all of these students scores are used in reports. However, in many countries, students are often "picked" to receive an education, and as a result, once again, only the upper-level students are tested and scored. Until there is a system in place where all states test their students in the same manner, it will be difficult to really see who stands where. Coming from a small-school environment myself, and my children are now in a small school as well, I am a true believer in this type of educational setting. Smaller schools = "an exceptional, personalized education"! (The motto of our small school!)


Mon, Aug 16, 2010 : 9:11 p.m.

"there is no real fix for the state's budget woes, and the school district underfunding which results, until a complete, progressive overhaul of Michigan's system of taxation takes place." Do you mean higher taxes? Many believe the solution is more efficient spending.

mike from saline

Mon, Aug 16, 2010 : 10:57 a.m.

there are three kinds of lies: Lies, damned lies, and statistics. Benjamin Disraeli [1804-1881] This should be up-dated to include, any sentence beginning with the words: "Study shows!" Mike from Saline @ Russ Miller, and glacialrratic. Great comments!!! Thanks for helping me prove my point. You're post's were worth the price of addmision.


Mon, Aug 16, 2010 : 10:23 a.m.

Let's consolidate the Washtenaw County schools and adopt the Saline Area Schools' teacher contract full of lots of perks and a generous pay raise!

John Q

Mon, Aug 16, 2010 : 9:42 a.m.

" As we have seen, public employees are paid dramatically more than their private sector equivalents - about twice as much." More of the usual fact-free commentary? Check out what teachers in the UP and rural districts get paid. It's not the 6 digit numbers you claim for all public employees.


Mon, Aug 16, 2010 : 9:04 a.m.

In certain areas around the state, consolidating adjacent districts may make sense due to decline in local population since the 1970s. It also makes sense for districts to increase resource sharing where practical and helpful. However, any proposal to commence large-scale, statewide consolidation of Michigan school districts pointedly dodges the real, underlying cause of chronic budget problems at the state level. Superficially, consolidation might sound like an immediate, practical fix, yet it's really just an escapist, short-term solution that willfully ignores the heart of the state's many budget crises. Any big savings gained from consolidation will disappear before long, since Michigan's taxation systems can no longer raise sufficient funds to cover the state budget. The administrative savings from fewer districts can help put us in the black for a time, but then we return right back into red ink once again. The functional political purpose for district consolidation would be to delay an inevitable financial reckoning for a little while longer, putting it off to a later year. As a result, Michigan residents would not get very much in return for giving up a very significant degree of local control over school decisions. Again (cueing up the well-worn record once more...), there is no real fix for the state's budget woes, and the school district underfunding which results, until a complete, progressive overhaul of Michigan's system of taxation takes place. Among other things, let's close various tax loopholes and then move to a graduated state income tax that adds revenue from higher incomes. Creating a Michigan state bank would assist the regional economy while contributing additional money to the state's budget over the long term.


Mon, Aug 16, 2010 : 8:39 a.m.

Let's get real here. The people want silos, not consolidation. Do you honestly think people in wealthier districts with higher MEAP scores will voluntarily merge with students in a failing district? Then there are the ego's on the school board. Remember the movie Wag the Dog? Their decisions are for the most part knee jerk reactions to a group of angry parents who have been told no by administration (likely for good reasons). Do you think the state legislators are going to make changes? They cannot balance a budget on time every October. They are all about self-preservation to get re-elected. Everyone knows there are budget problems. Everyone knows changes are necessary. Just makes changes that do not affect my kids and family. Make someone else feel the pain. That is what is going on here. Bottom line, dysfunctional districts need to be dissolved. Consolidation of some services need to occur, and sorry MEA members, public pensions that are unfunded are the 800# gorilla in the room that nobody wants to acknowledge. It is the third rail of politics.


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Russ Miller

Sun, Aug 15, 2010 : 8:47 p.m.

Sloppy Analysis! The sole study that Dr Shakrani cites as a source for the cost model (Doncombe and Yinger 2001) was based on consolidations of only twelve SMALL, rural districts in NY. The largest post-consolidation districts was ~3000 students, but several were 1000 or less after consolidation. District size had a VERY strong effect on cost which the research model completely ignores. Ignoring the size effects makes these savings predictions for Washtenaw County meaningless. From the conclusion: "We conclude that consolidation is likely to cut the costs of two 300-pupil districts by over 20 percent, cut the costs of two 900-pupil districts by 7 to 9 percent, and have little if any net impact on the costs of two 1,500 pupil districts." The study did not include any districts over 3000 pupils post-consolidation nor any urban districts. Using this simplistic model on the larger districts of Washtenaw County is meaningless, and if the full (non-simplified) model from Duncombe and Yinger had been used it would have shown HIGHER costs due to rapidly diminishing operating cost savings with size, and capital expenditure growth. It's always dangerous to extrapolate an order of magnitude or more beyond the limits of an empirical model like this.

Roger Roth

Sun, Aug 15, 2010 : 8:04 p.m.

I seem to remember not that long ago when, in education, local control was all the rage. What happened???? Everyone wants to save money. Let's just watch out for Fuzzy Math. For example, I think Elizabeth Nelson makes a valid point. One more caveat: If I had a buck for every change made in public ed and then dumped within a short time of its introduction, I'd be on easy street. New Math? Whole language? Phonics? Public schools dumped phonics only to have a private company make a fortune off of "Hooked on Phonics" Go figure! How be we talk about the complete concept of CHANGE in pubic ed? There's a ton of history from which we could probably learn much.


Sun, Aug 15, 2010 : 7:41 p.m.

while they are consolidating or getting rid of the public schools they can consolidate the public bus services, we have no less than 3 in Ann Arbor alone (k-12, UM & AATA)


Sun, Aug 15, 2010 : 5:50 p.m.

And median household income in Fairfax was $107,075. The tax base for these suburban Washington counties is formidable, as they constitute one of the wealthiest suburban belts in the nation.


Sun, Aug 15, 2010 : 5:44 p.m.

US Census data shows 2008 median household income for Arlington County, Virginia was $97,871 and Loudon County was $111,582, while Washtenaw County's was $57,848. Arlington and Loudon counties both have a greater percentage of adults with college and post-graduate degrees than just about any other county in the US.

Chris Blackstone

Sun, Aug 15, 2010 : 5:26 p.m.

One of the states mentioned in this report as having county schools, Virginia, consistently has schools ranked in the top 100 nationally, while the state of Michigan as 1. I worked for a district in Virginia that had all 4 high schools ranked nationally according to Newsweek magazine. While that district (Arlington) is similar sized to Ann Arbor, neighboring Fairfax County has 175,000 students and is considered one of the premier districts in the country. It's time Michigan seriously looks at consolidation. If closing down my child's school means he gets a better education with more variety somewhere else, sounds great. Maybe this would allow Ann Arbor to open a language-immersion school.

mike from saline

Sun, Aug 15, 2010 : 4:55 p.m.

no way! never! I could care less what happens in any other distict. I don"t even like the current system, where the money is doled out from Lansing.


Sun, Aug 15, 2010 : 4:12 p.m.

Great idea, but I doubt that many local citizens would vote for eliminating their school district. As former State Treasurer Doug Roberts once said: "There aren't enough football teams to go around." This is like term limits. Everyone one wants to limit the number of terms of everyone else's legislator or elected official, but the think that their own should stay in office.


Sun, Aug 15, 2010 : 1:01 p.m.

Yikes. Higher math...the 10% savings would be $1,700,000,000, not $1,700,000.


Sun, Aug 15, 2010 : 11:01 a.m.

This is excellent news and the findings are no suprise. In Washtenaw county the savings would be 18 million dollars. Who is going to lead this charge, it must happen?


Sun, Aug 15, 2010 : 10:32 a.m.

Mr. Jesse - A good article. Hopefully, you will retain the researchers for more studies. For some perspective: the $17,000,000,000 spent on education is shared by about 1,725,000 public school students, equaling about $9855 per student. Call it $10,000 per student per year. The $612,000,000 max projected savings following the larger plan above saves 3.6% of the total $17B, which equates to $360 of the $10,000. Is that enough savings for the effort? Perhaps. Likely, the savings would be much greater if all labor except teaching (that's another story) was sourced to the lowest qualified bidder. As we have seen, public employees are paid dramatically more than their private sector equivalents - about twice as much. The study referenced above may have addressed cost savings from competitive labor costs (a thorough read awaits); clearly the cited results do not. If the competitive sourcing option has not been addressed, it needs to be. The potential savings from competitive service contracts will likely be multiples of 3.6%, perhaps 10%: $1,700,000 per year in savings.


Sun, Aug 15, 2010 : 10:30 a.m.

when my sons went to school 'they never'had any homework.. NOw y grandchildren have homework all friday satruday and sunday...makes me wunder WHAT the teacher "teachs' in class..since they bring "all" there work have mom and da help them! Spelling bees..seams that the child that was "HOMESCHOOL" wins the Spellingbee! Any number on how may regular student "WON"? Also in egyt a sfirst grader learns three That is "THREE" laungugaes and why are NONE tood here? since ur universe is srinking and our children need to speak..more then just english!


Sun, Aug 15, 2010 : 9:56 a.m.

I wouldn't get too excited about consolidation as a means of controlling costs. Bigger is better if you are Costco or Walmart, but, as an example, AAPS is big and an issue can easily be drowned in bureaucracy and stasis. It looks like a red herring issue to me. I do agree with a stronger role by ISD, but good luck with that. They have been rendered toothless by the state government over the last set of years, and they took a horrible hit financially this last year. The bigger issue is the total compensation package for teachers and administrators, especially the benefits package,which goes back to unions and their bargaining strength, etc. If the unions and management don't do a good job in the face of declining revenue to manage the situation, districts can go bankrupt. Detroit Public School system is a good example of what can happen to a mismanaged system, so finally, someone comes in and dismantles the system and allow charters in, etc.


Sun, Aug 15, 2010 : 9:55 a.m.

I agree with InsidetheHall and others who caution about the impact. It is important to keep local needs and quality as a priority in looking at the savings. Two of the states (OHIO and MICHIGAN) with no county districts have a rich history of quality and innovative public education. Care needs to be taken to ensure that consolidation is not a precursor to the deterioration of public eduation pushing those who can afford them to local private schools.


Sun, Aug 15, 2010 : 9:54 a.m.

"Saline received from the State money in 2010 that is equivalent to 2004." Might want to double check those figures. "Equivalent"? The actual revenue for your school district may have grown a lot since then.

Jay Allen

Sun, Aug 15, 2010 : 9:39 a.m.

From the above article: 1. "Since 1970, the number has held near 550, leaving Michigan trailing only California, Illinois, New York and Texas in total districts. (Michigan ranks 8th in population and 11th in area.)" 2. "And with shrinking state revenues and rising legacy costs in the state, top leaders such as state Superintendent Michael Flanagan and business advocacy groups are calling for shared services." First of all, I cannot say whether or not I would support this or not. This article, while informative, does not have enough information to base a decision on. So while a few of you will decide to bash me, I cannot say yes or no on consolidation. But if Michigan truly has the 5th most school districts with the 8th largest population and 11th in area, something proportionally is wrong here. I surmise this is back from the late 1960's and 1970's when Detroit was in the top 10 of largest cities in the U.S. But now as Detroit shrinks in population I can see these numbers are not good. Using Saline's numbers here (as I know them) it was said that Saline has (had) the same number of kids this year as they did in 2005. Saline received from the State money in 2010 that is equivalent to 2004. ie, Less money & less kids. But are operating on 2010 costs? This will not fly and this is what has caused many (if not all) of the financial woes in Saline. OK, here come the mouthpieces for this argument and that argument. Whatever. The FACT is in 2004 & 2005 we were NOT having these discussions! As the above article states in a few places, it speaks about the auto companies. We all know what has transpired with regards to the auto companies. Look at the HUGE REALITY check the auto companies have went through. Financially, look at the reality check we have went through. Thus each and every school district must do the same thing. If not, more and more articles and studies like this will be done. And many of you that read this and do not want this had better do your part to help keep it as is or your hand will be forced.

Alan Benard

Sun, Aug 15, 2010 : 9:35 a.m.

Racism and classism will prevent this from ever happening, apart from further concentrating the underclass into giant, underfunded unit districts.


Sun, Aug 15, 2010 : 9:26 a.m.

Having worked in a county-wide school district in an other state, let me tell you, at some point big is too big. It is like moving a dinosaur. As an educator if you have any interest in doing something really innovative or different just forget it. I agree a district with one high school could consolidate with another district, but a district with 10 or more high schools just gets to be one big bureaucratic mess where the status quo is all you can get. This is not all that it may be cracked up to be.


Sun, Aug 15, 2010 : 9:17 a.m.

Thanks David! We need to be having these conversations. However, before we transfer any more responsibilities to the WISD, we need to change the election process. WISD board members are currently "elected" by the boards of the ten districts within the WISD. The voters deserve the opportunity to elect the WISD board members.


Sun, Aug 15, 2010 : 9:09 a.m.

Wow, amazing facts that we never knew, consolidation saves money?????....lets spend even more money and time wasted on finding the savings if teachers open up their contracts. to think i used to look up to the teaching profession.

Jennifer Shikes Haines

Sun, Aug 15, 2010 : 9:07 a.m.

Shared services might be a good money saver. Again, this would depend on how it was handled (or mishandled in the case of school buses in Washtenaw). If you eliminate school boards, local advocacy, etc., schools may undoubtedly suffer. Again, for tiny districts this might make sense, but we already have problems in districts as large as Ann Arbor and in Detroit bureaucracy and poor decisions have run amok. The needs of students in Warren, may be significantly different than those of the students in Blissfield. Reform research points to more focus on local issues and needs, not less.

Elizabeth Nelson

Sun, Aug 15, 2010 : 8:51 a.m.

The map attached to this article is meaningless-- what is the point of comparing total numbers between whole states where the population density varies so wildly across a region? This map just leads someone to conclude (simplistically), "Gee, look how high our numbers are compared to other states! OBVIOUSLY, the numbers are too high!" I grew up in Illinois, which-- like Michigan-- has large suburban areas as well as great expanses of fairly rural areas. If you want to analyze this in a sensible way, you have to look at the number of districts compared to the density of population by county. It's lazy (some might argue, irresponsible and misleading) to present information like this...


Sun, Aug 15, 2010 : 8:31 a.m.

... good luck with that! Too many ego's & power-hungry people in school administrations making too much money!


Sun, Aug 15, 2010 : 8:14 a.m.

If you consolidate all the support functions, then the board and the administration can focus on education, not purchasing, payroll, HR, building maintenance, transportation, logistics, cleaning, etc. The use of a single substitute pool has already paid benefits for the schools, in getting teachers into the classrooms faster in the morning and with better matches to the needs of the class. I am sorry about the way the transportation consolidation was done, I am not sorry that the consolidation was done. If we do this level of service consolidation, then schools are focused on 1 thing - teaching children. I would even think about a single county wide or state wide contract for administrators and teachers. Many states are already there. I expect I will get flamed for the suggestion. I see no reason to consolidate most districts if you do this, in fact with the overhead at a higher level, districts could get smaller and be efficient. It is the overhead where scale is useful, not the classroom.


Sun, Aug 15, 2010 : 8:12 a.m.

"...There's nothing wrong with paying people a nice wage and having small school districts," Watkins said Mr Watkins seems to have had a change of mind over the years. But that attitude sums up much of the reason we are having this discussion at all. We have had administrators galore solely because the money was there, not because this would benefit the students somehow. I haven't done the research yet, but it would be interesting to know how the States that have consolidated already are faring. That seems to be a concern to some here. Has education been adversely affected when the number of administrators has been cut? It seems a no-brainer to consolidate services.


Sun, Aug 15, 2010 : 8:08 a.m.

Great article, great reporting. There's little research connecting school district size to student outcomes, meaning that there's no evidence that larger school districts are somehow detrimental to learning. It appears that larger districts might allow more money to be spent on classrooms, ie. teachers, supplies, etc, and less on administration. Also, I think there's a mistake in the article. New Jersey also has more districts than Michigan.

David Jesse

Sun, Aug 15, 2010 : 7:56 a.m.

Here is a link to the full studies, courtesy of the Grand Rapids Press:


Sun, Aug 15, 2010 : 7:43 a.m.

I'd check to see how efficient our larger school districts are, like Detroit's and other large cities. I'm guessing "not very". Consolidation dilutes voter control and makes it easier for bureaucracies to run amok. Even Ann Arbor's district is top-heavy with bureaucracy. I can see very small districts benefiting from consolidation, as the article suggests, but that's about it. If anything I'd go with the charter school model where parents are in direct control via vouchers and there's no need for so much management overhead.


Sun, Aug 15, 2010 : 7:31 a.m.

@Suitsms, even if there was a secret agenda to this article, is it really that shocking or contraversial of an idea that we need to spend less money on administrators and infrastructure and more on students and teachers?


Sun, Aug 15, 2010 : 7:23 a.m.

Be careful. Mega districts will result in a watering down of education and will morf to teaching to the middle at the expense of lower/upper end students. Further, local control will be a thing of the past. Bureaucrats not parents will have an larger say in dictating what is taught in the classroom. While you can expect the teacher union to initially reject this idea (gotta protect the membership) they will eventually embrace it and view it as a way to gain further control of the educational process. Before we start banging districts together perhaps we should clean up what we have on a district by district basis. Once that is done then it can be determined if this makes financial sense. Consolidating inefficiencies does not gain anything!


Sun, Aug 15, 2010 : 7:09 a.m.

It's good that these discussions take place, we should be thinking big concerning schools. How about we give the parents of all the children a tuition credit slip and they can then use it to send their kids to any school public or private?


Sun, Aug 15, 2010 : 7:07 a.m.

Solid thinking and planning is important to doing this right. Stronger schools with more money focused into the classrooms and not on overhead is what we need.


Sun, Aug 15, 2010 : 7:02 a.m.

When Booth Newspapers assign three reporters to do a leading article about education one has to ask themselves why? Who is Dave Martell and what is the non-profit 'Michigan School Business Official Organization'? Coming from a family of hard working teachers and support staff it worries me that the forum for educational issues has become Booth News. Last fall a political action committee coming directly from the offices of McKinley Properties spent a fortune defeating the Millage and now this. Reader beware.

Stephen Lange Ranzini

Sun, Aug 15, 2010 : 6:49 a.m.

Great research David! This article is a great service to the state, the schools and the voters to outline the benefits of these policy options.