by Abdul-Hakim Shabazz

As Indiana lawmakers look to increase teacher pay, the only thing that would likely guarantee an increase in teacher pay is the one thing no wants to have a serious discussion about; consolidation.

One of the most recent analyses of Indiana’s 92 counties showed nearly 70 of them losing student population by 2020.   A recent study by Ball State University revealed that more than half of Indiana’s 291 school districts had less than 2,000 students.  That same study showed that 78 percent of those school districts lost more than 100 students between 2006 and 2012. And at the time there 51 school districts with less than 1000 students.  For the record, my high school in Chicago had about 2,000 students.

With so many school districts losing student population, I have a hard time feeling sympathy for them when they won’t look at consolidation as a way to resolve their financial issues and increase teacher pay.  

Think about this.  How much could the taxpayers save not having to pay for buildings which are no longer in use?   How many times have you heard your school administrators lament about not enough money, but they don’t have as many students to manage as they did, five or ten years ago?  Think of how many dollars would be freed up for teacher salaries?

Consolidation, if done properly, can resolve a multitude of issues.   For example, if School District A can’t afford the A.P History teacher and School District B can’t afford the A.P. History teacher, then why not combine resources and split the difference?   The teacher would work in one district on Mondays and Wednesdays and Tuesdays and Thursdays in the other school district. The same thing can be done for math, science, English or any subject that a district might have trouble filling positions.  

And why stop at instruction?  If there was ever a case for consolidation it’s the back office functions: human resources, accounting, janitorial, cafeteria, transportation, administration, purchasing, the list goes on and on.   Why not consolidate all the back office functions into one location. If major corporations can have a central place for their worldwide operations, there’s no reason that the school districts in Wayne, DuBois or Vermillion counties can’t do the same.  If my memory serves me correctly, there are what, five school corporations in Howard County for how many people? 90,000? (Hamilton County, by the way, has three times the population but only six school districts.) Some rough math means you’ve got some high schools in Howard County with graduating classes of what?  100 or so? Seriously? And I am not just singling out rural school districts. There are 11 school districts in Marion County and 16 in Lake. Give me a break.

How hard is this concept?  Apparently pretty hard since it hasn’t happened.    

And I get the emotional aspects of all this.   No one wants to see the high school they attended closed because they have fond memories of scoring four touchdowns in one game or they remember when “Oh What a Night” was the theme of their high school prom.   However find memories, must give way to fiscal realities. School districts can’t complain about not having enough money, for teacher pay or other programs, when they aren’t willing to have the hard discussions and accept the reality that there are too many of them and it’s time for class to be dismissed and consolidate.

Abdul-Hakim is the editor and publisher of IndyPolitics.Org.  His opinions are his own, but you are free to adopt them as your own.