Broken promises

Benefits of school consolidation touted by former state officials were almost limitless as they tried to convince reluctant parents that closing nearby schools and busing children to far-off consolidated schools were in the children?s best interest.Bigger schools would offer more Advanced Placement classes to prepare students for college. The curriculum would be far broader, with more foreign languages and electives like drama and computer programming to enrich students? academic life.And because of ?economies of scale,? all this could be offered at a huge savings of tax dollars, with fewer administrators and teachers and lower maintenance and operating costs.That was the schtick, anyway.But when reporters Eric Eyre and Scott Finn investigated, they found that almost every one of those promises has been broken.State school officials now admit that there are no hard savings from the massive consolidation of the 1990s, although they would have you believe that the promised savings actually went to improve ?other aspects of school operations and services.?In response to a Freedom of Information Act request, School Building Authority Director Clacy Williams wrote, ?To believe that efficiencies equal cash-in-hand is to be uninformed.?But those ?other aspects of school operations and services? are hard to locate.Despite a drop in enrollment of more than 40,000 students, there are actually more administrators in the school system now than there were in 1990. And counties now spend a higher percentage of their budgets on maintenance and utilities than they did five years ago.The promises of expanded curriculums and additional AP classes have gone largely unfulfilled. Statewide, the percentage of seniors who have taken at least one AP course has gone up a meager half a percentage, from 6 percent to 6.5 percent.
Some schools that consolidated actually lost AP and other elected courses after consolidation. Spencer and Walton high schools in Roane County offered three levels of Spanish and German. The consolidated Roane County High offers only two levels of Spanish.School officials promised Circleville families that they would get 25 advanced classes at the consolidated Pendleton County high school. Only one of those classes, drama, is being offered. Five AP classes were promised. There are none.Williams said that rural schools would be in even worse shape today if they hadn?t consolidated. That?s easy to suggest, and difficult to disprove.What?s certain is that more than $1 billion has been spent on school consolidation in West Virginia. Students have been forced into lengthy and dangerous bus rides. The distance lessens or eliminates their participation in extracurricular activities and makes it harder for parents to stay involved.And there is precious little to show for the sacrifice.It is no wonder the SBA abandoned a study to determine how much money has actually been saved by consolidation. The answer would have given far too much ammunition to opponents of consolidation.It may be too late to undo the damage done in the 1990s. But promises made during future consolidation proposals should be subjected to far greater scrutiny and skepticism.
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