Gazette: “Forum hears pros, cons on school regionalization”

Today’s Gazette reports on a May 29 forum on school regionalization:

…bigger school districts would save money by reducing administrative expenses and squeezing out inefficiencies, said state Sen. Stanley Rosenberg, D-Amherst…

But a recent study shows that school districts with fewer than 2,000 students are more effective, said [Nicholas] Young, who is president-elect of the Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents.

They are safer, have students who are involved more in extracurricular activities, and promote academic achievement better, he said. Smaller districts also tend to provide students with more personal attention and have better teacher morale and collegiality, he said.

There tend to be small short-term savings in regionalized districts, but later they tend to spend more money on guidance, discipline, maintenance, security, and even administration, Young said…

Regionalization rarely promotes democracy, said Glenn Koocher, executive director of the Massachusetts Association of School Committees…

See also:

Republican: “Superintendent Isabelina Rodriguez temporarily drops
proposal to close elementary school in Northampton”
Rodriguez has estimated that closing an elementary school would save $320,000…

The prospect of a school closing has galvanized some school
communities. Parents and administrators at the Robert K. Finn Ryan Road
School have already met to discuss the possibility, and people have
spoken out against school closings before the City Council…

…Rodriguez said Friday that revised enrollment projections show that four elementary schools might be needed after all.

“There’s a potential for growth,” she said, adding that some parents
who send their children to private schools might be looking to save
tuition expenses in the worsening economy. Private school enrollment in
Northampton was down 20 students this year, she said.

Video: School Committee Meeting of February 12; Presentation of Strategic Plan
The committee estimates operational cost savings of $200,000 to
$400,000 from closing an elementary school and lists some downsides.
The following issues may merit deeper consideration, however:

The net savings from closing a school may be open to question. In “Dollars & Sense: The Cost Effectiveness of Small Schools”, the authors write:

Adding up the costs and weighing them against the benefits
shows that small schools not only are better places in which to educate
children, but that large schools themselves actually create significant

Gazette Column: “Keeping our schools small is worth a large effort” (2/2/09)
Members of the Strategic Planning Committee say that closing a school
will save the city between $200,000 and $400,000 a year. In my opinion,
it’s not worth it.

What we get when we have small, local elementary schools are children
walking to class; families committed to the school down the street;
principals and teachers who know every student; people who really know
each other…

The reason for the effectiveness of small is that people have a limit
to the number of social relationships that they can manage. In a large
group, more than 400, social thinkers say it is difficult for people to
keep track of each other. Elementary schools are buildings full of
social relationships. If they sour, because the population is too big,
then they are not as effective, I believe…

“Back to School for Planners”; “Why Johnny Can’t Walk to School”; “The Cost Effectiveness of Small Schools”
…the trend towards mega schools continues despite widespread
agreement among researchers that the size of most U.S. schools is too
large. A growing body of research has shown that “student achievement
in small schools is at least equal and often superior to achievement in
large schools.” A higher percentage of students, across all
socio-economic levels, are successful when they are part of smaller,
more intimate learning communities… Security improves and violence
decreases, as does student alcohol and drug abuse…

Smaller, human-scaled institutions are easier to fit into existing
neighborhoods. They are also easier for community residents to relate
to than behemoth-sized institutions…

…District size also generally exerts a distinct influence
(Bickel & Howley, 2000)…

David Goldberg, “Of Sprawl Schools and Small Schools”
Smaller schools have lower drop-out rates
and higher average scores on standardized tests. Children in high-poverty
schools see an even more pronounced improvement. While it’s true that
larger schools generally do show a small savings on spending per student,
when that figure is computed for students who actually graduate, the per graduate
cost per student actually is slightly lower. Larger schools can
have more extracurricular offerings, but participation in after-school activities
declines as schools get larger. A U.S. Department of Education report
found that schools with over 1,000 students have much higher rates of
crime and vandalism than schools with 300 or fewer students. And teacher
satisfaction is higher in smaller schools, according to a Chicago study.

On Common Ground: “The ABCs of Smart Growth Spell Out the Community School Vision” (PDF, Winter 2005)
In an article for the American School Board Journal, Washington,
D.C., consultants Barbara McCann and Constance Beaumont outlined
these characteristics of Smart Growth schools:

  • Small in size.
  • Broad community involvement.
  • High-quality education.
  • Students can walk to school.
  • Serve as community schools.
  • Good fit for the neighborhood.
  • Use existing facilities wherever possible.

Small Schools Workshop: “What Are Small Schools?”
A small school offers an environment in which students are more
visible. When students are better known, teachers can more easily
identify individual talents and unique needs of each student, offering
a more personalized educational experience.

A small school staff size allows more opportunity for teachers to know
each other well, more easily share information about their students,
collaborate to solve problems, and generally support one another.

Small schools are a way of restructuring schools and the human relationships inside them.

…there are some common features that often characterize good small
schools… A maximum population of 250-300 students in a heterogeneous
mix that represents the local school community…

New Urban News: “Principles of the New Urbanism”
The heart of the New Urbanism is in the design of neighborhoods, which
can be defined by 13 elements, according to town planners Andres Duany
and Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, two of the founders of the Congress for
the New Urbanism. An authentic neighborhood contains most of these

…6) An elementary school is close enough so that most children can walk from their home…

Closing Bridge Street School Contradicts Smart Growth Goals
On page 11 of the Sustainable Northampton Plan, Land Use objective number 5 states:

Locate housing within walking distances along safe paths, or with
bicycle access, to and from neighborhood commercial areas, parks and
recreation, schools, and public transportation.

On page 51, one metric of progress is “Percent of children able to walk to school”.

It is well known that mothers of young children are heavy users of cars…