Democratic State Senator John Wozniak, who represents Somerset and Fayette Counties, is introducing a school district merger bill based on the idea presented in 2009 by former Governor Ed Rendell to consolidate the state’s 501 districts into 100.
Wozniak’s new bill would require districts with fewer than 2,500 students to merge with nearby districts.
Jim Buckheit, Executive Director of the Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators says Wozniak’s new legislation is more strategic than the idea offered in 2009.
“The Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators feels that if there is going to be any effort to consolidate school districts, then it needs to be done on a case-by-case basis, and that this is a movement in that direction,” Buckheit says.
Many school districts would prefer to voluntary merger if necessary instead of a state mandated merger for some districts. Some administrators have complained that students in larger districts are often overshadowed because there's more competition in the classroom, in sports, and in extracurricular activities.
Buckheit says tight budgets in some districts may cause consolidation even without a state mandate simply because it can be cost effective.
“As long as there are barriers removed, particularly the cost to local taxpayers to actually make the merger happen. As long as those barriers are taken out of the way then districts probably will be looking to voluntarily merge,” Buckheit says.
There was one consolidation that occurred in 2009 - Monaca and Center Area School Districts in Beaver county. According to the state Department of Education, this shows that consolidation can be a tax relief for the merging communities.