School district consolidation bill shot down by House panel

Teachers and parents opposed to school district consolidation urged the defeat of a consolidation effort pushed by Republican leaders. Photo by Tom Holland.

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Hundreds of teachers and parents opposed to school district consolidation in Oklahoma crowded into standing room only committee rooms Monday and successfully urged the defeat of a consolidation effort pushed by Republican leaders.

Cheers and applause broke out from the crowd following the 8-3 vote against the bill by House Speaker Pro Tem Lee Denney in the House Appropriations and Budget Education Subcommittee.

"I'm disappointed, but I understand the voracity of people not wanting their schools to change," said Denney, R-Cushing.

The idea of consolidating the administrative functions of some of Oklahoma's 515 school districts has been endorsed this year by GOP legislative leaders and Gov. Mary Fallin in her State of the State as a way to free up revenue amid a state budget shortfall and funding cuts to public schools. But it faces bipartisan opposition from lawmakers concerned it ultimately will lead to closures, particularly of smaller rural schools.

Quinton Roman Nose, whose grandchildren attend the Darlington Public Schools in Canadian County, said he's worried the quality of education would diminish under oversight of a larger, independent school board and district.

"They're not going to get the same quality and attention at the bigger schools," Roman Nose said.

Denney said the intent of her bill was not to close individual schools, but to target low-performing kindergarten through eighth grade dependent school districts for consolidation with larger, independent K-12 districts. Cost savings could be realized through the consolidation of some purchasing, transportation and human resources services, she said.

Despite the bill's defeat, Denney said the idea of school district consolidation is far from over this session.

"I believe there are seven school consolidation bills out here," Denney said. "What that tells me is we need to get more stakeholders to the table and have a more concerted effort across all fronts on what we think should be done with school consolidation."


By Sean Murphy. Copyright 2016 The Associated Press.

The Gayly- 2/15/2016 @ 3:43 PM CST