As a former School Committee member in Freeport I believe now is not the time to give up on school consolidation.
State funding is drying up. Last spring the Legislature removed approximately $37 million for next year’s school funding. Because of the just-announced $200 million shortfall, the education commissioner has a new budget reduction target of another $38 million. It will be larger districts that will be better able to weather the impending financial storm. Small districts will face very unpleasant choices as they have very little room to create efficiencies or cut programs. So, the issue is no longer whether the first year of consolidation saved any money. The issue is how are districts going to handle a large reduction in state funding in the years ahead.
Educational quality will be better maintained in larger districts. RSU 5, for example, has already made progress in enhancing its program offerings and bolstering curriculum development among all its schools. This would not have happened but for consolidation. The threat of a significant loss of programs due to budget cuts will become a reality for many districts this coming spring, particularly for small districts.
The clock cannot be turned back because the state does not have the money to return us to the “good old days.” It will be up to the local districts to figure out how to get it done, and it is the larger districts and the consolidated districts that will best be able to face the challenge.