DOING MORE WITH LESS: A SIMULATED AMALGAMATION OF SCHOOL BOARDS
SSTA Research Centre Report #97-04: 48 pages, $11
The History of Centralization in Saskatchewan
Demographic Changes in Saskatchewan
Need for the Study
II. Review of the Literature
|Public school divisions in Saskatchewan have traditionally been small jurisdictions with strong local influence. However, fiscal restraints and demographic changes are threatening the present structure of educational governance in the province. There are many indicators that the restructuring of Saskatchewans school divisions could occur. This paper reviews a simulated amalgamation of six school divisions in east-central Saskatchewan: Deer Park S.D. No. 26, Melville S.D. No. 108, Melville Comprehensive Board of Education, Potashville S.D. No. 80, Yorkdale S.D. No. 36, and Yorkton S.D. No. 93. The study looked at the existing costs of the six school boards and then compared them to the estimated costs of an amalgamated school division. The study focused on four major expenses areas: School operation and staffing; central office operation; governance; and student transportation. The simulation ascertained that eight of the 32 schools could be closed, with a loss of 11.63 F.T.E. teaching positions. An amalgamated central office could be operated with less staff than that of the six boards together. The amalgamated school division would be governed by 10 board members. This would be a decrease of 25 board members from the existing six boards. With the closure of schools, more students would need to be transported longer distances. Thus, student transportation costs would increase. The study estimated that an amalgamation could net between $1,426,809 and $1,519, 809 in savings in a combined budget of $37,607,755. This would be approximately 4% of the total budget.|
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A prominent trend throughout the history of education in Saskatchewan has been the centralization of authority. In many sparsely populated areas of Saskatchewan, the closure of small rural schools and the subsequent growth of large urban schools is still an on-going reality. Advocates of school jurisdiction consolidation list greater economic efficiencies as one important justification. A wide-spread belief exists that school division consolidation in Saskatchewan would realize greater fiscal efficiencies. This is one of the conclusions put forth by Langlois and Scharf (1991) in the School Finance and Governance Review.
The History of Centralization in Saskatchewan
There have been many proposals to consolidate small school districts throughout Saskatchewan's history. Prior to 1944, these proposals were not taken very seriously by the provincial government, which did not wish to upset its rural constituents. However, the newly-elected C.C.F. government, which pledged as a campaign promise to reorganize school districts in Saskatchewan, introduced The Larger School Units Act (1944). As a result, larger school units each consisting of approximately 80 school districts were formed. The larger school unit had an average area of about 2,000 square miles, with enrolments of approximately 2,000 pupils (Langlois and Scharf, 1991, p. 134; SSTA, 1993, p. 3). At first, only rural and village school districts were to be affected. By 1947, larger school units could by agreement include a high school. Town districts with populations under 2,000 people were included in the larger school units. The larger school units were governed by a unit board. The former small school districts within a larger school unit remained, but lost much of their power. These districts became part of sub-units and each of these elected a member to represent it on a unit board. Town districts were given two board members (Langlois and Scharf, 1991, p. 134). Local boards became primarily advisory bodies to the schools they represented; the major administrative and financial matters were given to the unit boards.
The boundaries of the larger school units were based on the inclusion of approximately 80 school districts. Consideration was given to geographic features such as natural barriers, and the location of highways and railways. The size of the larger school unit had to be small enough for a "reasonable administrative area" (Langlois and Scharf, 1991, p. 135). The Department of Education stated that the size of a larger school unit should permit the building of regional high schools of four or more rooms, and that there should be the possibility of building a composite high school. The one way traveling time to school should be a maximum of one hour for elementary students, and 90 minutes for high school students. According to the Department of Education's recommendations, each larger school unit should employ 70 to 80 teachers instructing 1,800 to 2,000 pupils (Langlois and Scharf, 1991, pp. 135-136).
Problems arose in the development of the larger school units. In 1955, the Royal Commission on Agriculture and Rural Life noted that a great variation existed between larger school units, regarding the number of sub-units, the number of pupils, and the total assessment of each (Langlois and Scharf, 1991, p. 136). The commission proposed the establishment of coterminous boundaries for municipal and school jurisdictions, with the establishment of a county system of local government. Under the county system, one governing body would administer both the school system and the municipal affairs. This proposal would have established 66 counties with an average population of 9,044, and an average pupil attendance of 2,024. The rationale for proposing the county system was to restore and extend autonomy to local jurisdictions. There were advantages to this system. It provided:
local jurisdictions with comprehensive responsibility
local jurisdictions with enough resources to fulfill their obligations
an efficient administrative structure
a better administrative relationship with the provincial government
more active citizen participation.
The commission's report, however, was not acted upon by the government of the day (Langlois and Scharf, 1991, p. 138).
Composite high schools were promoted by both the provincial and federal governments during the 1950's and 1960's. The purpose of composite high schools was to foster the development of vocational education. By 1960, 60 composite high schools were in existence in Saskatchewan. In 1964, three major changes occurred in Saskatchewan education. First, the province adopted a new Division IV (grades 10 to 12) program. It became obvious that many composite high schools were too small to deliver the new program. This led to the second major change. The provincial government changed the legislation to allow individual school boards to establish 'joint boards' to form comprehensive schools. A joint comprehensive board allowed small jurisdictions to team up to provide full service programs for their students by combining their enrolments and financial contributions. Third, legislative changes allowed "for the dissolution of high school districts and for the establishment of urban K-12 public and separate school districts (Langlois and Scharf, 1991, p. 139). At the time, many school districts only operated a high school. Since 1964, no major changes to school governance have occurred.
In 1991, the School Finance and Governance Review was published. It was commissioned by the provincial government to investigate the funding and governance of school jurisdictions across the province. It called for sweeping changes to the funding and governance of education in Saskatchewan. It recommended that both the funding mechanisms and the governance of school jurisdictions would be improved if the present school divisions were consolidated into fewer units. It proposed that the 93 public school boards be amalgamated into 16 or 17 larger school divisions (Langlois and Scharf, 1991, pp. 232-236)
The Saskatchewan School Trustees Association (SSTA) undertook its own study regarding the matter. The SSTA Task Force on Educational Governance: Final Report, published in 1993, agreed with the School Finance and Governance Review in tenor, but not in substance. It suggested that consolidation of local jurisdictions not be taken to such extremes. It proposed that there be approximately 35 public school divisions in Saskatchewan (SSTA, 1993, p. 19) (see Table 1).
SASKATCHEWAN SCHOOL DIVISIONS BY CATEGORY (1992)
TOWN & DISTRICT 14
Demographic Changes in Saskatchewan
The total population of Saskatchewan declined from approximately one million people in 1930 to about 900 thousand people in 1951. Recently, it has exceeded a million people (Langlois and Scharf, 1991, p. 186). School enrolment in Saskatchewan has mirrored its demographic changes over the past sixty years. In 1930-31, the total student enrolment in Saskatchewan was 230,492. This continually dropped, reaching a low of 166,962 in 1950. The 'baby boom' increased enrolments until a high of 247,968 in 1970-71. Since then, enrolments have again dropped to 195,954 in 1991-92 (Langlois and Scharf, 1991, p. 187). Figure 1 reveals the population trends of Saskatchewan between 1930 and 1990. Figure 2 describes Saskatchewan school enrolment trends between 1970 and 1990. A noticeable shift has occurred within the population namely, the age structure. The average age in Saskatchewan has steadily risen, and this has had direct impact on school division enrolments. Although the total school enrolment had 34,538 fewer students in 1991 than in 1930, for the most part, the largest losses in pupil enrolment have occurred in the rural school divisions (Langlois and Scharf, 1991, p. 187).
Saskatchewan has a high proportion of low-enrolment school divisions. Nearly 75 percent of school divisions have fewer than 1500 pupils (Langlois and Scharf, 1991, p. 194). Langlois and Scharf (1991) commented:
The enrolment sizes of many school divisions in the province have reached or are approaching the enrolment sizes more commonly associated with schools and not school jurisdictions . . . it has become apparent that major adjustments must be made among school divisions. (p. xxv)
Langlois and Scharf (1991) commented: "enrolments in many rural schools have declined to the point where it is exceedingly difficult to deliver quality services in an effective and efficient manner" (p. 117). Between 1988 and 1991, 83 of Saskatchewan's 114 school divisions experienced enrolment declines. Of these, 28 divisions had declines of over 10 percent, and 14 over 15 percent (Langlois and Scharf, 1991, p. 192). Langlois and Scharf (1991) have also attempted to project school division enrolments for the next twenty years. They have determined that using even the most optimistic projection of population growth, rural Saskatchewan school division enrolments will continue to decline (p. 200).
In Saskatchewan, the birth rate is dropping, the population is aging, and rural areas are depopulating. As a result, changes to the structure of education are necessary. Saskatchewan is not alone in experiencing these phenomena. Ghan (1991) suggested that the basic causes of reorganization activities in Iowa are rooted in economic and social changes. He wrote, "reorganization changes are much more closely aligned to the natural changes coming from private enterprise and from population modifications than they are related to actions of government" (p. 5).
The move to consolidate schools and school districts appears to be a part of a larger urbanizing trend throughout North America. The population is shifting from rural areas and small towns to urban municipalities. Farms are getting larger as the number of farming operations declines. Businesses are leaving smaller towns and concentrating in larger communities. This is an on-going reality in Saskatchewan. Furthermore, the largest component of rural depopulation is youth. This has direct implications for school divisions because older people who remain in rural areas are no longer raising families (SSTA, 1993, p. 6). Between 1930 and 1991, the enrolments have increased by 66,718 pupils in the cities, and declined by 101,256 pupils in town, village, and rural areas (Langlois and Scharf, 1991, p. 187). Likewise, over the past twenty years, the populations of cities and towns have grown by 30.7 percent and 17 percent respectively. Villages have decreased by 17 percent; rural municipalities by 20 percent. Urban areas have increased by 145,472 people in 1991, while the rural areas have declined by 70,405 people during the same time period (Langlois and Scharf, 1991, p. 187) (see Figures 1 & 2).
Traditionally, communities were defined in geographic terms, "and included a small area within which it was safe to assume that the individuals knew each other and there was a community of common interests" (Langlois and Scharf, 1991, p. 226). But the boundaries of communities are changing. The geographic size of rural communities is growing because the population is more mobile. This is mostly a result of improvements in transportation. With highway improvements and the better fuel economies in vehicles, people are more willing to travel to larger centres for work and for shopping than in the past. This has undermined local economies. The SSTA Task Force on Educational Governance (1993) noted that the number of functional trading centres in Saskatchewan has declined from 140 in 1961 to 62 in 1990. Conversely, the number of minimum convenience centres has increased from 271 to 419 over the same time period
SASKATCHEWAN PUPIL ENROLMENTS
(1930 TO 1995)
SASKATCHEWAN RURAL-URBAN SHIFT IN POPULATION
(p. 6). This supports the argument that people are relying on larger centres to meet a wide range of needs. The SSTA Task Force on Educational Governance (1993) indicated:
The distinction between urban and rural is gradually blurring. For example, families who live in the 'donut' around larger centres travel into the city for work, shopping, and entertainment. Parents who drive to work in the cities sometimes bring their children with them to attend school. (p. iii)
The highest growth rate in Saskatchewan over the last twenty years, at 80.6 percent, has occurred on Indian reserves (Langlois and Scharf, 1991, p. 187). Presently, Indian reserves are struggling to establish their own band-controlled schools. These schools would be governed independently of the provincial system. This parallel First Nations system would further decrease the already falling enrolments in off-reserve rural schools.
At the time of the study, the provincial government appeared to be interested in jurisdictional amalgamation. In 1994, it initiated pilot projects to study school division consolidation. Interested school divisions needed to meet certain criteria established by the "Amalgamation Pilot Project Advisory Committee," which was comprised of representatives from the League of Educational Administrators, Directors, and Superintendents (LEADS), SSTA, the Saskatchewan Teachers' Federation (STF), the Saskatchewan Association of School Business Officials (SASBO), and Saskatchewan Education, Training, and Employment. School divisions which participated in these pilot projects included: Oxbow School Division No. 51 and Arcola School Division No. 72; Melfort School Division No. 100 and Tiger Lily School Division No. 54; Prince Albert School Division No. 3, Prince Albert Comprehensive Board of Education, Prince Albert School Division No. 56, and Kinistino School Division No. 55.
Need for the Study
The literature on school jurisdiction size and school jurisdiction consolidation is inconclusive and does not present a clear picture for policy-makers. There is no substantial evidence that school jurisdiction size alone is a major factor in determining the costs or the quality of a school system. Furthermore, there is no solid foundation upon which to base a belief that school division consolidation will improve education or cost effectiveness. The research shows little evidence suggesting a causal link between the variables. Schultz stated,
The supply of rhetoric about the efficiency in education is very large. The supply of competent studies is minuscule. In determining the efficiency of any school system, we must ascertain the economies of scale of that system. The analytical task is neither simple nor easy. (as cited in Sher and Shaller, 1986, p. 4)
The research prior to 1970 supports reorganization on the basis of improved educational opportunity for students and reduced financial costs for the jurisdiction; however, since 1970, much of the literature suggests that no significant advantages to school jurisdiction consolidation exist. Furthermore, the volume of literature has also decreased since 1970, and recent research regarding the financial effects of school district consolidation is limited. The number of studies reporting in general terms on the efficiency of larger school jurisdictions outnumber the amount reporting specific data. Moreover, much of this research is outdated, much of it is American, and much of it applies to urban settings where the sizes of some schools outstrip the entire student populations of many Saskatchewan school divisions.
Consequently, decisions have often been based on unverified information. In many cases, old information has been used to validate prior interests (Ward and Rink, 1989, p. 12). Streifel (1989) concluded, "The only agreement seems to be that consolidation is a controversial and divisive process that has confronted educational decision makers for over a century" (p. 25).
II. A REVIEW OF THE LITERATURE
Efficiencies of Consolidation
The public is becoming more concerned about the rising costs of education as well as the perceived inefficiencies of a large number of small school districts. These inefficiencies include reduced curricula, staff teaching subjects outside their areas of expertise, small pupil-teacher ratios, higher administrative costs per pupil, and difficulties in holding personnel (Williams, 1990, pp. 15-16). Ward and Rink (1992) noted that declining enrolments, a stagnant tax base, increasing cost pressures, and limited options for raising new revenues are responsible for many school district consolidations (p. 14). The SSTA Task Force on Educational Governance (1993) stated, "Governments are seeking new structures that make the best possible use of scarce resources" (p. 4).
There is some misunderstanding regarding school division consolidation and potential savings. A consolidation may not result in fewer educational dollars being spent but it should improve the educational opportunities for the dollars spent (Bridgman, 1987, p. 19). Fitzwater stated, "Reorganization (is) not an economy measure in the sense of reducing total school expenditures and cutting local tax rates . . . It (is) a means of getting more and better education per tax dollar expended" (as cited in Hickey, 1969, p. 6). Many people believe that increased spending on education would improve the quality of education for students. Hickey (1969) disagreed:
Were this true, many of the smaller districts -- some with pupil expenditures twice those of large districts -- would be providing programs of exceptional quality. The fact of the matter is, however, that in most cases the high per pupil cost is necessary for the district to continue to exist because of numerous inefficiencies of operation resulting from its size. (p. 7)
Efficiency involves the maximization of output for a given cost (Hickey, 1969, p. 6) or getting the most "bang for ones buck". School division efficiency is defined in terms of the average costs a district incurs. The more efficient the district, the lower these average costs. McLure (1953) stated, "Efficient schools provide a maximum of educational service at a minimal cost per pupil" (p. 321).
The consolidation of school divisions may provide more economical and efficient operations. It would offer the opportunity to realign student attendance to different schools to save transportation costs. Capital costs could also be reduced through the closure of redundant or obsolete schools. Savings may also result through the elimination of duplicated positions, increased pupil-teacher ratios, large-scale buying, and reduction of general control costs (Bridgman, 1987, p. 18; Greider, 1947, p. 172). Ghan (1991) made an interesting comparison regarding Iowa school district reorganization:
If school districts were run by private enterprise instead of local governments, the changes would have taken place much sooner and at a more steady pace. School reorganization seems to proceed for many years with very little movement, and then for a short period of time experiences rapid change; whereas, economic activities controlled by the market place tend to respond quicker to the needs for major adjustments. (p. 6)
Inefficiencies of Consolidation
Streifel, Foldesy, and Holman conducted a study which demonstrated that consolidated school districts incurred no overall fiscal advantages while sacrificing student achievement and community support (Streifel, Foldesy, and Holman, 1991, p. 15). Sher and Shaller (1986) argued that issues like mergers usually are diversions from the greater tasks of finding new ways to improve education (p. 41). Some researchers claim that small school districts cost more only because overhead and transportation costs exist regardless of size. Walberg and Fowler conducted one of the largest studies yet on the subject which suggests that larger districts obtain less achievement value per dollar (Walberg and Fowler, 1986, p. 12). Walberg (1989) noted that students from smaller school districts score higher on standardized tests, and this fact makes them more effective and efficient (p. 154). Butler and Monk (1985) examined cost differences between large and small school districts. They commented: "These results indicate that there is a sense in which small school districts [i.e. under 2,500 pupils] operate with greater efficiency than otherwise similar larger districts" (p. 377). They suggested several reasons why rurality may contribute to efficiency. Rural communities are more homogenous and more stable than urban communities. Also, there are fewer activities to compete with schools in rural communities (Butler and Monk, 1985, p. 377).
It is unclear whether school division consolidation would result in more or less transportation costs, and whether transportation diseconomies would set in or not. It was recognized as early as 1953 that more funding was needed for student busing in the event of school district consolidation (McLure, 1953, p. 324). Many of these earlier situations occurred with one-school jurisdictions, where one or more schools were closed as a result of consolidation. According to Bridgman (1987), in the event of rural school closings, busing costs would likely increase. In these cases, it is a matter of whether the reduced operating costs would be greater than the increased transportation costs (pp. 19-20). Jefferson (1985) determined that school jurisdictions under 500 pupils allocate less money per pupil than jurisdictions of 500 to 900 pupils, presumably because transportation costs are lower for smaller jurisdictions (pp. 37-38).
In most instances of any future consolidation of school divisions in Saskatchewan, students will most likely attend the same schools they attended prior to consolidation. In fact, a merger may allow for a more efficient utilization of busing by combining several transportation systems into a single, larger system. Savings could be realized from "improved utilization of the present capital investment in facilities and vehicles" (SSTA, 1993, p. 17). Through the removal of boundaries and crossover lines, and the amalgamation of routes, there is the potential for both improved service and lowered operating costs; this is a significant consideration. If even a 2 percent saving in transportation results from any restructuring of school divisions in Saskatchewan, the overall provincial benefit would be approximately $1.2 million dollars (SSTA, 1993, pp. 19-20).
There is a common belief that additional efficiencies can be achieved in administration through school division consolidation. As school enrolments decline throughout rural Saskatchewan, it is increasingly perceived that the size of school division administration is too large and too inefficient (SSTA, 1993, p. 5; Mullins, 1973, p. 24; Bridgman, 1987, p. 21). Manatt and Netusi found that "per capita expenditures for both general administration and total central administration vary inversely with district enrolment" (as cited in Hickey, 1969, p. 21). Streifel (1989) studied school district consolidations across the United States, and found that costs for administration decreased when school districts consolidated (p. 46). Likewise, a study by Streifel, Foldesy, and Holman (1991) indicated a significant savings in administration as a result of consolidation (p. 15). A similar relationship was found in Western Canada by Holdaway and Blowers. They studied 41 urban school districts in Western Canada and found that larger jurisdictions tended to have proportionally smaller administrative staffs.
Tax Assessment and Funding
Saskatchewan school divisions are currently under considerable financial pressure. The provincial economy has been shrinking for years. As a result, fewer dollars are being spent on education. Provincial funding for public school education in Saskatchewan declined 5.4 percent between 1992 and 1995 (Melvin, 1995, p.12). Thus, local taxes levied by school divisions have been increasing. In many jurisdictions, citizens cannot or will not support new taxes.
A common argument in support of school district consolidation is to ensure a more equal tax burden across the educational system (Langlois and Scharf, 1991, p. 34). This idea is not new. In 1933, N. L. Reid chaired a committee investigating educational reform. He reported that "equalization of the tax burden could only be achieved through the creation of larger school administrative units" (as cited in Langlois and Scharf, 1991, p. 132). In British Columbia, the publication of the Cameron Report resulted in the large-scale reorganization of school districts (Coleman and LaRocque, 1984, p. 25). Six hundred fifty school districts were replaced by seventy-four in a move motivated largely by a concern for equality of the tax burden. The SSTA Task Force on Educational Governance (1993) demanded, "educational reform must ensure the fairness of the tax burden" (p. 14).
Consolidated educational jurisdictions could also provide a greater opportunity for the provincial government to improve the fairness of the foundation grant. This is the main funding mechanism the provincial government uses to distribute money to school divisions. The foundation grant is seen as a fair and equitable system of funding education. It allocates money according to need. Langlois and Scharf (1991) suggested that most funds distributed by the provincial government to school boards should be unconditional. However, the importance of conditional funding cannot be denied, as it can provide equality of opportunity for students in school divisions with limited tax bases (p. 16). Langlois and Scharf (1991) commented:
The mix of unconditional and conditional funding of any grants program depends on the characteristics of the school divisions and the pupils they serve. The greater the differences, the greater the need for conditionality. A restructuring of school divisions would reduce the need for conditional grants. (p. 16)
The foundation grant program assumes that the cost of providing basic educational service is the same across Saskatchewan. This is not the case. Langlois and Scharf (1991) identified several important areas where cost differences exist across the province. First, overall administrative costs vary inversely to school division size, and the size of school divisions varies greatly. Second, the experience and qualifications of teachers vary between school divisions. Third, the size and density of some divisions allow for significant economies of scale not available to others. Fourth, the demand for service varies. Fifth, the nature of the student population differs between school divisions. Sixth, Local Implementation and Negotiation Committee agreements are unique for each division. Seventh, it costs more to provide services in remote areas (p. 13).
Education in Saskatchewan is not solely funded by the province; school boards presently raise more than 50 percent of all school costs. This revenue is raised through property taxes. Thus, the nature and size of local assessment bases are very important to school boards. Furthermore, the distribution of foundation grants depends upon a school board's ability to raise funds. Currently, a wide variance exists in Saskatchewan school assessment bases. Langlois and Scharf (1991) noted that in 1989, "the assessment bases for public school divisions ranged from $1.9 million to $878.7 million, a ratio of 460.78:1 (p. 234). In the simulated school division consolidation undertaken in the School Finance and Governance Review, the consolidated school divisions' assessments ranged from $167.3 million to $878.7 million, a ratio of 5.25:1 (Langlois and Scharf, 1991, p. 234).
One of the strongest criticisms lodged against small school divisions is their inability to raise revenue. The lack of a strong tax base in many rural school divisions forces these jurisdictions to operate with a disproportionate percentage of their operating budget going toward salaries and administration. There is little left over for innovative programs, expanded course offerings, or buying more educational resources (Williams, 1990, p. 19). In Saskatchewan, there is a wide range in school division tax bases. In 1989, these assessments ranged from $860,287 to $878,698,066. This translates into a ratio of 1021:1. Thus, an additional teacher hired in the lowest assessed school division would require a tax increase of about 49 mills. In the highest assessed school division, this same teacher would cost only an additional .05 mills. (Langlois and Scharf, 1991, p. 15). Advocates of consolidation assert that school districts must have sufficient wealth to extend their educational programs beyond the central foundation level so that equalization does not become synonymous with uniformity.
The larger tax bases provide two major benefits. First, school boards can raise money more easily through tax levies because of the larger assessments. Using 1989 assessments, the smallest school division in Saskatchewan would raise $1,907 with one mill, using 1989 assessments. In the simulation undertaken by Langlois and Scharf (1991), the smallest consolidated school division would raise $167,300 with a one mill increase. This would allow boards of education to exercise greater local autonomy in their decision-making (p. 235). Second, if the variance of school division tax bases is reduced, the development of a more equitable and fair foundation grant structure is possible. To illustrate, under the current Saskatchewan structure the per pupil assessment for public school divisions ranges from $4,942 to $158,523, based on 1989 assessments. Under the simulation provided in the School Finance and Governance Review, the range would be $11,814 to $48,277. Once northern areas are removed from the equation, this range is improved to $23,278 to $48,277 (Langlois and Scharf, 1991, p. 237). Langlois and Scharf (1991) stated, "When combined with the reduced number of school divisions, the reduced variance in assessments would greatly enhance the ability to deal with equalization issues in the distribution of available funds" (p. 237).
The consolidation of school divisions does not come without its problems in this area. Jurisdictions with little or no debt oppose consolidation with areas having a large debt, especially if the law requires the assumption of the debt by the entire area after reorganization (McLure, 1953, p. 324). Wealthier school districts fear their taxes would be increased without personal educational benefits. In one study of a consolidation in New York state, "many citizens of [one district] were unsure about acquiring the problems and debts accumulated by [the other] if the two districts merged" (Galvin, 1986, p. 29). Conversely, poorer school districts often oppose consolidation on the grounds that higher taxes will be necessary to maintain higher educational standards than they are accustomed to (McLure, 1953, p. 323). The basic choices will be to raise local taxes in order to bring everyone up to the highest mill rate in the merged school district, or to hold local taxes steady and achieve 'equality' by lowering the funding (Sher and Shaller, 1986, p. 34). Other obstacles would include the rebalancing of tax rates and special levies amongst the participating school divisions in any consolidation.
Obstacles to Consolidation
A variety of obstacles stand in the way of school division consolidation in Saskatchewan. Many people are concerned consolidation would cause more problems than it would solve. A common concern about school division consolidation is the demographic impact it may have on affected communities. Community identity is a significant factor to consider. Ward and Rink (1992) noted, "The theme of loss throughout the consolidation resistance data does not focus so much on loss of local control as it does on loss of identity" (p. 15). Other researchers argue that the virtues of decentralization should not be swept away by consolidation. These virtues include:
increased sensitivity to the needs of heterogeneous groups
quickness of response to perceived needs
the ability to more effectively use staff
increased community involvement in educational decision-making (Sher and Shaller, 1986, p. 38; Hickey, 1969, p. 26)
The SSTA Task Force on Educational Governance has observed paradoxes inherent in Saskatchewan's education system. First, it noted that school systems need to be both large and small at the same time. Large size is necessary to capture economies of scale. However, people desire to be close to things important to them, such as schools, and to have a voice in the decisions that affect schools. Second, the Task Force realized that school systems need to be both centralized and decentralized at the same time. Centralization provides efficiency and consistency within the system. Decentralization is the best method of ensuring community support, and in creating a system that is responsive to the community (SSTA, 1993, p. 8). The challenge to policy-makers is to deal with these paradoxes.
During the early rounds of consolidation in North America, Greider (1947) pointed out five obstacles to reorganization:
the disposition of outstanding debt
the threat of higher costs for new services
increased expenses and complexity of transportation
different assessment ratios of property
insufficient financial incentives (p. 174).
According to the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction, there are four significant factors which cause opposition to consolidation. First, a large concentration of minority groups in a school district may create resistance for those who want to keep their districts homogenous. Second, due to different property valuations, tax rates, and special taxes levied for schools, unequal local support would occur between merger partners. Those who have provided for a higher standard of education do not want to direct their funds to bring another area's schooling up to the same standards. Third, dissatisfaction among people can be expected if consolidation threatens to reorganize schools, change attendance lines, or close schools. Fourth, it is difficult to overcome differences in policies and programs of the various merger partners (Bridgman, 1987, p. 17).
During a recent reorganization in New York state, a "Concerned Citizens" group argued against the reorganization on several grounds:
there had not been enough time to study the issue
the cost of the consolidation was a major issue
promises of state aid were not to be relied upon
costs in the future may escalate
community pride would be affected (Galvin, 1986, p. 25).
The SSTA Task Force on Educational Governance noted a few obstacles to school division consolidation specific to Saskatchewan. First, each school division negotiates with its teachers a LINC agreement. The scope of this agreement includes items outside of the provincial collective agreement. Usually, items such as teacher leaves, special allowances, and the salaries of substitute teachers are included in these agreements. Since each division negotiates independently, each LINC agreement is unique. As a result, the restructuring of these agreements with a consolidated board of education may be a significant obstacle to amalgamation. Another problem lies in the determination of the locations of central offices of consolidated school divisions. Small communities are concerned about losing jobs, and the loss of any jobs would most likely be contested. Also, the reallocation of staff and the treatment of redundant staff would need to be considered. Lastly, the current assets and liabilities of each merger partner would need to be distributed (SSTA, 1993, p. 29).
Implementation of Consolidation
A wide range of advice is offered by researchers to those who decide to undertake consolidation. Sher and Shaller (1986) argued that decisions to consolidate should be voluntary and "are too complex and far-reaching in their impact to be made any way other than on a case-by-case basis" (p. 9). Ghan (1992), after witnessing school district reorganization in Iowa during the 1980's, offered this advice: "The consolidation of school districts is a very drastic step and should only be taken after a thorough examination of all factors" (p. 7). Streifel, Foldesy, and Holman (1991) echoed this sentiment: "Districts contemplating consolidation should look in-depth at the various individual financial factors involved" (p. 19).
Galvin (1986) claimed that leadership is of utmost importance when implementing any policy that will effect social change (p. 14). Davis (1986) emphasized the importance of establishing a strategic plan to set criteria to be used when implementing consolidation (p. 46). In many instances of consolidation, governments responsible for education have used incentives to encourage the process. Often, governments pass permissive legislation which permit local jurisdictions to merge. However, the more effective incentives are financial ones. Examples of financial incentives include lower property tax rates, increased operational or capital funding, or increased transportation funding to offset greater busing costs.
Many researchers advocate the inclusion of full community representation when implementing school division consolidation (SSTA, 1993, p. 11; Streifel, Holman, and Foldesy, 1989, p. 11). Galvin (1986) argued that if community members are involved in the decisions of planning change, they will more readily accept the change (p. 2). Moray discovered that when there was community involvement at every step, consolidation went more smoothly (as cited in Streifel, 1989, p. 13).
The SSTA Task Force on Educational Governance (1993) identified several factors to be considered when establishing the boundaries for consolidated school divisions. These include trading patterns, natural geography, location of highways, locations of existing school division offices, locations of existing schools, the boundaries of health districts and Saskatchewan social services, and the wishes of local citizens (p. 28). The SSTA Task Force on Educational Governance would like to see established a special task force on school division boundaries. This task force would hear from all of the public boards of education. It would also welcome input from local school advisory committees, district boards of trustees, the Saskatchewan Teachers' Federation, the two universities, and municipal governments (SSTA, 1993, p. 28).
III. A SIMULATION
rhardt (1996) conducted a simulated amalgamation of six school divisions in east-central Saskatchewan. These divisions included:
Deer Park School Division No. 26
Melville School Division No. 108
Melville Comprehensive Board of Education
Potashville School Division No. 80
Yorkdale School Division No. 36
Yorkton School Division No. 93
The simulation attempted to determine the savings and costs of an amalgamation of these boards. It focused on four major expenses areas:
Central office operation
School Operation and Staffing
Schools are the functioning units of every school division. It is not surprising that school boards look at schools in their attempts to reduce costs. Teacher salaries and plant operation and maintenance costs compose most of any school's expenses. Closure of schools represents a significant source of savings for most school boards. In an amalgamation of school divisions, it is possible that no school closures would occur. However, it is likely that schools can be closed and transportation to other centres provided for their student populations. This would be the case, especially with schools near the present school division boundaries.
The consolidated school division, using 1994-95 data, would enrol 6,640 students and hire 364.75 F.T.E. teachers. The consolidated budget of the six school divisions would total $37,607,755.00. Figure 4 indicates that Instructional Salaries comprise nearly one-half of all expenses (47.7 percent).
ENROLMENT AND STAFFING FOR THE SIX SCHOOL DIVISIONS
TOTAL EXPENSES OF THE SIX SCHOOL DIVISIONS
MAJOR EXPENSES FOR THE SIX SCHOOL DIVISIONS
There is no single formula to apply in determining which schools to close, but some guidelines can be given. For a school to be considered for closure, the following criteria should be heeded. First, schools with a utilization near or below 50 percent should be considered under-used facilities. The utilization of a school is a comparison of a schools capacity to its present enrolment. These facilities are prime targets for closure if there are other facilities nearby which can accommodate their students. However, if a school is a long distance from any other, it may be prudent to keep it open. Second, the amount of time spent by students on buses is an important consideration. According to the Local Government Continuing Committee in 1961, the one-way transportation of students from a school should not be longer than 60 minutes for elementary students, and 90 minutes for high school students (as cited in Langlois and Scharf, 1991, p. 136). A school closure should not create a situation where students' time on buses exceeds this guideline. Third, the number of combined grades per classroom must also be addressed. A characteristic common to many schools with low enrolments is the presence of multiple-grade classrooms. It may be more prudent to combine students into single-grade classrooms in other schools. Fourth, the condition of the plant/facility must be considered. Older facilities in need of renovations in the near future should be high priorities for closure. This may even be the case if some minor construction is needed on newer facilities nearby to accommodate more students from another older school. Also, a school with a low utilization may be larger than a nearby school with a higher utilization. In such a case, it would be more logical to maintain the former school in order to accommodate the students of both schools. Furthermore, the facilities within a school are important. Schools with full facilities such as gymnasia, libraries, and shops should be given a higher priority to remain open relative to those which do not have such facilities.
School closures may be enacted in different circumstances. Due to the nature of the present school division boundaries, some students are closer to schools in other school divisions than they are to schools within their own school division. In some situations, schools from different school divisions are located close together. Consolidation of these facilities would likely provide for greater efficiency in the use of schools. In other cases, some schools within the same school division have low utilizations, but are close together. Again, an amalgamation of these facilities might provide a more efficient use of taxpayers' money.
The elimination of internal boundaries within a consolidated school division can provide for a more efficient distribution of students between schools. In this simulation, Grayson School, which was located in Deer Park School Division No. 26 had a utilization of only 48 percent. Its capacity was 167 students, yet its enrolment is only 80 students. At first glance, it may make sense to close the school. However, students from the Dubuc and Bangor areas in Potashville School Division No. 80 were closer to Grayson or Melville than they were from where they presently go to school in Stockholm and Esterhazy. It would be more efficient to accommodate these students at Grayson School or at one of the Melville schools, and minimize their traveling time on buses. Likewise, students of high school age from the area south of MacNutt attended the Yorkton Regional High School. They could go to Langenburg High School and cut their traveling time by a considerable amount.
Bredenbury School could be closed and its students transferred to both Churchbridge Elementary School and Saltcoats School. Bredenbury's utilization was 62.5 percent, but its capacity was only 123 students. Saltcoats School and Churchbridge Elementary School both had lower utilizations: 58.6 percent and 47.7 percent respectively; however, the capacities of both schools were larger than Bredenbury School. Churchbridge Elementary School's capacity was 239 students; Saltcoats School's capacity was 247. Furthermore, Churchbridge Elementary School was the newest facility of the three.
A consolidation of school divisions would also provide an opportunity to amalgamate several schools within the existing school divisions. Goodeve School students could be transferred to Ituna School. Both Ebenezer School and Rhein School could be closed, and their students transferred to Yorkton. Both of Ebenezer and Rhein schools utilizations were near 50 percent, and in 1994-95 there were only 100 pupils between the two schools. Elementary students from MacNutt could be transferred to nearby Calder School. The capacities of both schools were almost the same; however, Calder School had a larger enrolment. It would not make sense to transport the students from a school with a larger enrolment to a school with a smaller one given equal capacity. Tantallon School had a K-8 enrolment of only 42. This gave a utilization of 29.2 percent, the lowest of all schools in the study. At the time of the study, a bus conveyed high school students from Tantallon to Esterhazy High School. The same transportation could be used to move all Tantallon students to Esterhazy's three schools. Spy Hill School could also be closed. Its students could be transported to Langenburg to attend school at either Hoffman School or Langenburg High School. Again, this would be more efficient since a bus at the time conveyed Spy Hill high school students to Langenburg. Lastly, it would be more efficient to close Churchbridge High School and amalgamate its students with Langenburg High School. The two communities are only 16 kilometres apart along Highway 16, and Langenburg had a facility large enough to accommodate both student populations. School closure data can be found in Table 4. It should be noted that in all cases of school closures, the affected schools have projected enrolments which are falling or, at best, which are holding. Within the next decade, the viability of these schools, from a enrolment perspective, is questionable.
Reducing F.T.E.'s as a result of consolidating schools is difficult to determine. The present average PTR for the six school divisions is 18.2 (see Table 2). For purposes of this study, it is assumed that the consolidated school division would attempt to maintain a PTR of 18, or the PTR of the school which would be absorbing the students, whichever is higher. Therefore, in the consolidation of schools, some teachers from the closed schools would be needed to work in the remaining schools. Some positions would be declared redundant. Significant financial savings can result from this.
SCHOOL CLOSURES IN AN AMALGAMATION OF THE SIX SCHOOL DIVISIONS
Thus, some fiscal savings can result, as noted in Table 5. This study assumes no significant increase in plant/maintenance costs would occur in schools which have absorbed students from closed schools. The resultant savings in plant/maintenance and operational costs would total $317,039. Also, through the consolidation of schools, 11.63 F.T.E. were cut. The average teacher salary for the six school divisions was $50,175.38 (see Table 2). The total savings in teacher salaries amount to $583,540. Thus, the closure of the eight schools should net $900,579 in savings.
A COMPARISON OF PRE- AND POST- AMALGAMATION SCHOOL DATA
Central Office Operation
efore beginning the simulated consolidation, some assumptions regarding the administration of the amalgamated school division were made. First, it was assumed that the central office of the consolidated school division would be located in Yorkton. There are several reasons for this. The central office for the Yorkton School Division No. 93 presently has the capacity to expand to accommodate more personnel. Yorkton would be centrally located in the consolidated school division. Also, it is the main business centre in East-central Saskatchewan. It is the junction of four highways. Highway 16, "the Yellowhead", is given a Trans-Canadian designation. Highways 9 and 10 are also primary highways (see Figure 3). Second, the central office personnel for the consolidated school division must be assumed (see Table 6).
Three school divisions, Deer Park No. 26, Melville School Division No. 108, and the Melville Comprehensive School Board of Education had consolidated central office costs at the time of this study. These boards, along with St. Henry's Roman Catholic Separate School Division (RCSSD) No. 5 in Melville, operate out of one central office, and employed a common Director of Education, a common Secretary Treasurer, and common clerical help.
The one predominant expense for the total central office expenses is salaries at 76.4 percent of the total budget.. As a result, it is logical to assume that a large portion of this area would be targeted for savings in an amalgamation. Table 7 reports the total amount for salaries among the six school divisions: $975,476. Analysis of several other school jurisdictions in Western Canada with similar demographics, suggests that the personnel discussed below would be required for the consolidated school division. This list would be the minimum personnel requirement for the central office. The salaries in Table 8 are estimates based on similar positions within Saskatchewan. The consolidated school division would incur $572,000 to $657,000 in central office personnel salaries. This would create a savings between $318,476 and $403,476.
CENTRAL OFFICE EXPENSES OF THE SIX SCHOOL DIVISIONS (1994)
FIGURE 5: TOTAL CENTRAL OFFICE EXPENSES OF THE SIX SCHOOL DIVISIONS (1994)
CENTRAL OFFICE CONSOLIDATION
CENTRAL OFFICE PERSONNEL FOR THE AMALGAMATED SCHOOL DIVISION
Director of Education $90,000-$105,000
Superintendent of Finance $68,000-$78,000
Superintendent of Programs and Personnel $68,000-$78,000
Superintendent of Facilities $68,000-$78,000
Superintendent of Student Services $68,000-$78,000
Executive Assistant (to the Director) $35,000-$40,000
Payroll Clerk $35,000-$40,000
2 Accounts-Payable Clerks $70,000-$80,000
Stenographer: Facilities/Finance $35,000-$40,000
Stenographer: Student Services/Programs/Personnel $35,000-$40,000
TOTAL SALARIES $572,000-$657,000
The Director of Education would be the Chief Executive Officer for the consolidated school division. The duties of the Director of Education would by definition be those outlined in Section 108 of The Education Act. The Superintendent of Finance would deal with all financial concerns of the school division. The duties of this person are outlined in Section 109 of The Education Act. The Superintendent of Programs and Personnel would oversee the implementation and evaluation of all curricula and programs, as well as providing technical assistance to employees. This person would also be responsible for dealing with the affairs of all of the school division's employees, including the hiring and dismissing of employees. The Superintendent of Facilities would be responsible for the construction, renovations, and maintenance of all plants and facilities within the school division. The Superintendent of Student Services would oversee all services provided to students, as well as student transportation.
The consolidated school division central office would undoubtedly incur higher costs than the average of the six school division's central office costs. Cost estimates were projected for the central office expenses of the amalgamated school division:
Materials and Supplies: $60,000
Other Office Expenses: $72,000
Other Administrative Expenses: $31,000
overnance costs refer to the costs that the members of each board of education incur. The governance of school divisions in Saskatchewan is the responsibility of boards of education. The provincial government has given this responsibility to boards. Nevertheless, the minister responsible for education retains ultimate control. Section 20(1) of The Education Act states:
Where he considers it in the interests of education to do so, the minister may, with the approval of the Lieutenant Governor in Council, by order establish a school division consisting of all or any part of one or more existing school divisions or of any other portion of the province not included in an established school division.
In the simulated amalgamation of the six school divisions, a number of assumptions regarding the governance structures were made. First, it was assumed all six present school divisions would be disestablished and consolidated into a new school division, with a new name and a new number. It is possible that five of the school divisions involved in this study be disestablished and consolidated with the sixth school division. But for the purposes of this study, it is more convenient to establish an entirely new school division.
Second, the boundaries and the area of the consolidated school division must be assumed. For the purposes of this study, the outside boundaries and the area of the consolidated school division would be coterminous with the six present school divisions (see Figure 3).
Third, the number of board members needed to be determined. At the time of this study, the number of board members of the six school divisions varied from 5 to 10. Section 32 of The Education Act states: "In each school division there shall be a board of education consisting of no fewer than five and no more than ten members as specified in the minister's order mentioned in section 21, or in a subsequent amending order." Because the total area of the consolidated school division would be greater, more board members would be required. The number of board members for the amalgamated school division was set at ten. This provided for the maximum number of board members presently allowed by The Education Act. Constituent representation by board members would decline overall in an amalgamation. This would provide the best possible representation for the constituents of the consolidated school division.
Fourth, some system of representation of the constituents was assumed. At the time of study, board members in Melville and Yorkton were elected at large. In Yorkdale, Deer Park, and Potashville, board members were elected from sub-divisions, which represent the population of a certain area. The Melville Comprehensive School Board of Education was composed of appointed members from three other boards of education: Melville School Division No. 108, Deer Park School Division No. 26, and St. Henry's RCSSD No. 5.
Therefore, it was assumed that the present sub-division boundaries would be disestablished. In their place, new sub-divisions or wards would be established in order to guarantee an equitable representation of the consolidated school division's constituents. The outlining of exact sub-unit or ward boundaries was beyond the scope of this study, and was not attempted.
In a consolidation of school divisions, governance becomes more centralized. Overall, fewer board of education members would be required. Table 9 reports the number of board members for each school division. There are 39 board members among the six school divisions in this study. It was assumed that the consolidated school division would be governed by 10 board of education members.
It should be noted that per board member costs would be higher for a consolidated school division that the average of the six school boards. An increase in cost could result from increased travelling expenses for board members. The highest per board member cost, represented by Potashville School Division No. 80, was used as the per board member cost for the consolidated school division, resulting in governance costs for the consolidated school division of $98,318.30. The 1994-95 total governance cost of the six school divisions was $219,196.00. Thus, amalgamation should permit a savings in governance costs of $120,878.00
GOVERNANCE COSTS OF THE SIX SCHOOL DIVISIONS (1994)
Table 17 reveals a variety of transportation systems in the six school divisions. Potashville School Division No. 80 and Yorkton School Division No. 93 contracted their bus services. Deer Park School Division No. 26 and Yorkdale School Division No. 36 owned and operated their own bus fleets. Melville School Division No. 108 did not own its own fleet, as its rural students reside in Deer Park School Division, which conveys them to Melville. The Melville Comprehensive School Board of Education was composed of members from three other boards. Therefore, its students travelled on the buses of the participating school boards. As a result, its transportation costs were practically nil.
The consolidated school division would need to maintain the present transportation systems already in place. It may not be financially sound to replace the contracted transportation with board-owned buses. The cost of increasing the size of the bus fleet may prove to be prohibitive. It is possible for a school division to use both board-owned and contracted transportation.
It is doubtful whether savings in transportation could be achieved in a consolidation of the six school divisions. Rural
students need to be bused regardless of the consolidation. Some savings may be realized from the consolidation of the administration or management of the transportation systems. With two school
TRANSPORTATION COSTS OF THE SIX SCHOOL DIVISIONS (1994)
divisions with no real busing costs, and two school divisions with contracted conveyance, this would be only a small savings.
Some savings could also be realized through the development of more efficient bus routes. It would be more efficient to bus high school age students from the MacNutt area to Langenburg rather than to Yorkton. The same can be said for busing Dubuc and Bangor area students to Grayson School or to Melville. However, these efficiencies may be lost to other cost increases that could result from the closure of schools and the subsequent transportation of students to other schools.
Transportation expenses were projected for the amalgamated school division. These were based on Potashvilles contracted conveyance costs which are based on mileage. The size of the bus (over 30 passengers) does not make any difference in the cost. In localities where schools are closed, money can be saved through the elimination of a local bus. However, this economy of scale is offset by a corresponding diseconomy. A bus would be needed to convey the pupils to another centre and this conveyance would cost more in most circumstances. Some centres where schools would be closed already transport students to other centres, usually a high school. If the number of students from a closed school could be handled by the same transportation arrangement already going to another centre, no transportation diseconomies would occur. This would be the case with Tantallon and Spy Hill Schools. Students from Tantallon who were beyond grade 8 went to Esterhazy High School. Spy Hill high school students went to Langenburg High School. Furthermore, the increased pupil load could be dealt with by the transportation arrangement at the time. Transportation costs would increase if more buses are required because of new routes or if they are needed to handle increased pupil loads.
On average, $10,000 could be saved through the discontinuation of every local bus which would service a small school targeted for closure. On the other hand, on average, $20,000 would need to spent on the addition of every bus to another centre.
In all cases with the closure of schools, a local bus could be cancelled. Spy Hill and Tantallon Schools would not require additional buses to Langenburg and Esterhazy respectively. Two buses would be required to convey Bredenbury students to Churchbridge and Saltcoats. With the rest of the school closures, it was determined that one additional bus would be required to convey the students from each closed school to a nearby centre. Table 11 shows that $80,000 could be saved through the discontinuation of the local buses to closed schools. The addition of other buses to transport the students of closed schools to other centres would cost $140,000. The difference is an estimated $60,000 increase in transportation expenses.
TRANSPORTATION COSTS AFTER AMALGAMATION
Summary of the Findings
This study revealed the following:
1. The combined budget for an amalgamated school divisions using 1994-95 data would be $37,607,755.00.
2. A consolidation of the six school divisions would provide an opportunity to close and amalgamate schools. In this simulation, the following schools would be closed: Bredenbury School, Churchbridge High School, Ebenezer School, Goodeve School, MacNutt School, Rhein School, Spy Hill School, and Tantallon School.
3. As a result of school closures, an amalgamation of school divisions would create an estimated savings of $317,039 in plant/operation and maintenance costs and an estimated savings of $583,540 in the reduction of 11.63 F.T.E. teaching positions.
4. This study assumed that the City of Yorkton would be the best location for a central office of the amalgamated school division.
5. An amalgamation of school divisions would save between $318,476 and $403,476 in central office personnel salaries based on the minimum required central office personnel: Director of Education, Superintendent of Finance, Superintendent of Programs and Personnel, Superintendent of Facilities, Superintendent of Student Services, and Executive Assistant to the Director, one Payroll Clerk, two Accounts-Payable Clerks, and 2 Stenographers.
6. An estimated $138,340 in central office expenses could be saved if the school divisions amalgamated.
7. Unless changes are made to The Education Act, the maximum number of board of education members allowed for the amalgamated school division would be 10. This would save an estimated $120,878.00 in governance costs.
8. It is estimated that an additional $60,000 for transportation would be required if there was an amalgamation of school divisions.
9. Overall savings incurred as a result of an amalgamation are estimated between $1,418,273 and $1,503,273. This is approximately 4 percent of the overall budget.
A SUMMARY OF THE FINDINGS
Benefits of Amalgamation
he findings of this study indicate that an amalgamation of the six school divisions would yield an estimated savings between $1,418,273 to $1,503,273. This represents nearly 4 percent of the combined budget of $37,607,755. This may prove to be a strong financial incentive for these boards to consider amalgamation.
Such an amalgamation may yield other benefits as well. It may facilitate the development of more efficient student transportation routes. This is likely to be the case especially for such routes near the borders of the present school divisions. It may also provide an opportunity to create a more efficient distribution of schools throughout the area. The closure of facilities in Bredenbury and MacNutt and the subsequent distribution of their students to other schools from other divisions is an example of this. An amalgamation would also provide the opportunity to effect the closure and consolidation of under-utilized schools within the same school divisions as they now exist.
After such an amalgamation, the overall pool of teaching staff in the amalgamated school division would be larger and more diverse. This would give more flexibility to administrators when determining the staffing of schools. This could ensure that each school may have a better chance of obtaining appropriate teachers.
Five of the six school divisions involved in this study had enrolments under 2,000 pupils. Three of these five had enrolments under 600 pupils. Potashville and Yorkdale were projected to have sharply declining enrolments before the turn of the century. These school divisions were indicative of trends in most rural school divisions in Saskatchewan. Simply put, the divisions in this study are too small, or will be too small in the next few years, to provide an effective education for their students. Furthermore, many of the schools involved in this study had low enrolments. Nineteen out of thirty-two schools had enrolments of less than 150 pupils. Most of these were small rural schools which could be consolidated with other nearby schools. By consolidating some of these schools, it is hoped that the students can receive the educational advantages that larger schools are able to provide.
Amalgamation of school divisions would also provide the central administration greater administrative flexibility. The central office of an amalgamated division would be better staffed at less cost than the sum of the individual divisions. Because of specialization, central office administrators may be better able to respond to the challenges in their respective fields. An amalgamation of divisions would also provide the central administration with additional flexibility in budgeting. Because the budget for an amalgamated division would be larger, fixed costs such as salaries and transportation would not take up as large a percentage of the total budget. This would leave more money for administrators to use in a discretionary manner. As a result, a larger school division would be better able to implement new initiatives that require a considerable outlay of money; for example, new programs or computer installations in schools would be possible.
According to Langlois and Scharf (1991), there exists a large range of tax assessments among public school divisions in Saskatchewan. Amalgamation of school divisions would have two primary benefits. First, an amalgamated division would be better able to raise money through a mill rate increase than would a smaller division. For example, the total assessment for Melville School Division in 1994 was $16,641,972.00. Thus, a one mill increase would raise $16,641.97. Using 1994 assessments, the total assessment for the amalgamated school division would be $247,101,851.00. A one mill increase would furnish for this division $247,101.85. This is nearly a 15:1 ratio between the two. (Langlois and Scharf, 1991, p. 235).
Second, if all the public school divisions in Saskatchewan were consolidated in a
similar fashion, there would be less variance in the tax bases between school divisions.
This would result in more equitable provincial distribution of grants (Langlois and
Scharf, 1991, p. 237). Presently, there are wide differences between school divisions in
Saskatchewan in regard to student enrolment, the cost of administration, the experience
and qualifications of staff, the characteristics of each respective student population,
LINC agreements, and the cost of services (Langlois and Scharf, 1991, p. 13). These facts
show that it is very difficult for the provincial government to use a fair and equitable
distribution of funds through the Foundation Grant Program. Creating fewer but larger
school divisions in Saskatchewan would increase the homogeneity among school divisions,
and ease the problems of providing equity in the Foundation Grant.
Problems With Amalgamation
Problems would also arise with the amalgamation of school divisions. First, a loss of staff would occur. Overall, 11.63 F.T.E. teaching staff would be eliminated. As well, a large number of central office staff, especially clerical workers, would lose their positions. This would undoubtedly be resisted by the respective employee associations. Second, the challenge of negotiating new LINC and union contracts would need to be addressed. Each school division negotiates with its respective teacher's associations and unions. There probably exists a wide variety of agreements covering employee leaves, substitute teacher pay, supervision, preparation time, and other related employee issues. Third is the problem of developing a completely new board policy. Again, a wide variety of board philosophies, policies, and practices probably exist. Fourth, such a consolidation would result in less local representation for the constituents. This amalgamation would decrease the number of board of education members from 39 to 10. Also, the problem of determining the type of representation to be used (ward, sub-unit, at large) would have to be addressed. Lastly, the whole aspect of politics was ignored in this study. This study was basically financial in nature, but it is recognized that an amalgamation would have deep political reverberations. Communities would resist the closure of both schools and central offices. Resentment would occur over the location of the new central office. People have often resisted dramatic change, and it would likely be no different for this issue. This would have to be dealt with. Last, grant recognition for the amalgamated school division would be affected as well. Factors such as busing, the proximity of school, and school closure could affect the grants amalgamated school boards receive. The loss of grant money could be a diseconomy which would offset any fiscal gains. It would need to be determined whether the benefits outweigh the disadvantages in an amalgamation, and whether the obstacles to consolidation can be overcome.
In the 1990's, funding for education in Saskatchewan has fallen. As well, the student population, especially in rural areas, has been dropping, and future projections show this trend will continue. Coupled together, this has put tremendous financial pressure on rural school divisions. As unpalatable as it may be to some rural constituents, school division amalgamation is one solution to these problems. It is important for school divisions in Saskatchewan to use their resources in an efficient and effective manner as possible. By pooling their resources together, school divisions which amalgamate may address some of the fiscal hardships they currently experience.
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