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School consolidation: The dreaded 'C-Word'


The "C-Word."

It's a word that strikes terror in those in rural schools and communities across the land.

It is hard to imagine the "C-Word" being uttered at a Perham-Dent School Board meeting.

There are few outstate Minnesota school districts with as fierce an independent streak; such a solid record of academics and extracurricular activities; and a consistent commitment to excellence as Perham.

To hear the word "consolidation" among Perham School Board members and school administrators is, well, rather out of character.

Now, before we get too far along here, please understand that this was only discussion at a school board work session last week, December 2. Consolidation is not even a vague proposal at this stage. But the mere fact that the subject is being discussed is a reflection of the dire financial conditions facing our public school systems.

A stronger liklihood is that schools like Perham and New York Mills will finally begin using these words more frequently: Pairing, sharing, collaboration, partnerships and cooperation.

"There is going to be a real push for consolidation...what do we need to do to get ahead of it?" asked Perham School Board member Dave Schornack, rhetorically.

Talk of "county school districts" is also on the increase, noted Perham Superintendent Tamara Uselman. This, of course, would launch fundamental changes in administration by "regionalizing" management-creating countywide "czars" of education, who oversee multiple schools.

Elaborating on that theme, Perham School Board Chairman Jim Rieber said that schools are saddled with an "inefficient management system...we have all these silos scattered around the countryside." To make education more cost effective, said Rieber, management needs to be consolidated in a larger, centralized pool.

My, how things change.

Up until the recent financial crisis, the public education trend was toward a free market model. Staunchly independent school districts were encouraged to compete for students on a Darwinian, survival-of-the-fittest battleground. Those with the most open enrollment students win. Those districts that lose students-lose.

Schools had advertising, marketing, and promotion budgets. Dazzling academic and extracurricular programs were added to make schools more enticing to parents.

Hawkish, capitalistic school board members insisted- often arrogantly-that "schools must be run like businesses."

Now, school districts can hardly afford to clean the toilets.

And the free enterprise gang, who is fully aware that capitalism requires a revenue stream-finds that taxpayers, who also think the school should be "run like a business," are cutting off the revenue stream.

So, the rhetoric takes a turn.

Now the discussion revolves around centralized planning, regionalization and education "polit-bureaus."

Sound familiar?

There's another "C-Word." It's an archaic, quaint word in today's world, but one that struck terror for most of the last century. It's a word associated with chaps like Marx, Lenin, and Stalin.