When I first heard of a proposal at the state level to mandate the consolidation of schools with less than 1,000 students, the first thing that came to my mind were all the negative effects it would have on our local communities.
After all, nearly all of the schools in Northern Essex County fit that description, and, in some cases, three schools would need to be combined just to reach that mark.
Still, I have to wonder if there is any way consolidation of local schools without causing significant problems for parents, teachers, and most of all students.
The biggest concern, of course, as pointed out by both legislators and school officials, is transportation. Combining certain schools could mean bus rides of more than an hour for some students. Still, consolidation would have some notable advantages.
Though it's true schools represent a source of pride and identity for many small communities, schools with too few students struggle to offer the wide range of opportunities afforded to students in larger schools.
As smaller schools naturally have a higher per-student cost, it is less feasible to offer expensive AP courses, and may make it more difficult to invest in a quality music program or a wider selection of athletics.
Granted, several of the small schools in this region offer such things despite the cost, but they come at the expense of the taxpayer. While it may require some significant up-front costs, merging schools has the potential to make them more efficient from a financial perspective. Also, the state offers significant incentives to schools who choose to consolidate, which would help offset the cost of needed expansions.
Some small districts are close enough to neighboring schools that transportation wouldn't be a huge issue. Most of the homes in Westport, for instance, are less than a 20 minute drive from Elizabethtown. How much farther would it be for Crown Point students to travel to Moriah or Ticonderoga?
School consolidation may look ugly to start, but look at what it has done for the communities of AuSable Forks and Keeseville. Are students in those towns not better off now than if the two schools had remained separate in the late 1960s?
Regardless, school consolidation is an issue best decided by the people in the community, not the state government. Mandatory mergers are not the way to make consolidation work.
Matt Bosley is the editor for the Valley News and Tri-Lakes Today newspapers. He can be reached at 873-6368 x216 or firstname.lastname@example.org.