That liberal bastion, the Wall Street Journal, has written an article about how government consolidation of the type being demanded by Gov. John Kasich and his allies is turning out to be Fool’s Gold around the country.
In its story, “When Civic Mergers Don’t Save Money,” the Journal (owned by NewsCorp, parent company of former Kasich employer, Fox News) reports that:
“Governors and lawmakers across the U.S., looking to trim the costs of local government, are prodding school districts, townships and other entities to combine into bigger jurisdictions. But a number of studies—and evidence from past consolidations—suggest such mergers rarely save money, and in many cases, they end up raising costs.”
The article details much of that research, succcinctly summed up by Enid Slack, director of the Institute on Municipal Finance and Governance at the University of Toronto:
“If the rationale [for a merger] is cost savings, you’re going to be disappointed.”
This conclusion mirrors research focused on school district consolidations, which indicates that they end up costing more money and have negative effects on student achievement and community identities. One need look no further than West Virginia and its massive school consolidation done since the early 1990s. A series of stories written by the Charleston Gazette found the following in 2002:
“1) The state has spent more than $1 billion on school consolidation; 2) the school closings didn’t save taxpayers money; 3) West Virginia counties statewide spend a higher percentage of their budgets on maintenance and utilities now than they did five years ago, despite consolidation; 4) the number of local administrators has increased by 16% in the last 10 years despite a 13% decrease in student enrollment and closing of over 300 schools; 5) the number of state-level administrators increased and their salaries nearly doubled between 1990 and 2002; and 6) West Virginia spends more of its education dollar on transportation than any other state; rising transportation costs have forced counties to slash funding from classrooms, offices, and cafeterias.”
In addition, researchers in the Journal of Academic Leadership found:
“in studies from 1960 through 2004, there has not been evidence that consolidation of small districts into larger districts has necessarily reduced fiscal expenditures per pupil.”
Beyond the financial aspect, there is evidence that creating larger districts can in fact hurt academic achievement, especially in districts with vulnerable populations of kids. Vermont’s legislative research arm examined school district consolidation for that state’s legislature and found that:
“of the three topics considered in this policy brief, the research is most uniform in this area: larger schools result in poorer outcomes for students (and teachers).”
There is little question that efficiencies must be found throughout government, especially given Kasich & Co.’s commitment to starving all government services. But moving full bore into consolidation of services as a knee-jerk reaction to a particularly (and temporarily) radical state government seems hasty at best, foolhardy at worst. One need look no further than the shocking events at Mt. Sterling recently to see just how Ohio’s radical new agenda has started to tear at the fabric of our communities.