Education

Dec 17, 2010 7:09 PM by Katie Stukey (Great Falls)

MT School Boards leaders oppose forced school consolidation

Consolidation of schools is becoming more common in Montana's rural communities, but no matter how small a district becomes, the state's school boards want to ensure the choice to consolidate is left up to local leaders, not the state.

The Montana School Boards Association (MTSBA) is taking a stand against forced consolidation; according to the association, legislation had recently been proposed to mandate any elementary school with fewer than 85 students to consolidate.

Jan Cahill, president of the MTSBA, said, "We feel it should be a local option available to local boards and local communities, especially in rural areas where closure of a school or consolidation of a school had a lot of major impacts on the economy, and just on the tradition and value of the community."

A recent poll by the MTSBA shows that 52% of Montana oppose forced consolidation, with 82% saying that the choice should be up to local communities.

We're told the bill proposing forced mergers has been pulled from the table.

Below is the full text of the MTSBA poll:

MONTANA PUBLIC VIEWS

on K-12 PUBLIC EDUCATION

Featuring the 2010 MTSBA and MREA/Zogby Poll of Montana Voters

MTSBA BOARD OF DIRECTORS

REGIONAL DIRECTORS

Region 1 Barb Riley, Columbia Falls

Region 2 Harvey Capellan, Havre

Region 3 Charles Wilson (Immediate Past President), Glasgow

Region 4 Keith Osborne, Rau

Region 5 Mary Schelle, Lewistown

Region 6 Dianne Burke (Vice-President), Frenchtown

Region 7 Sabrina Steketee, Boulder

Region 8 Lance Voegele (President Elect), Belgrade

Region 9 Sue Vinton, Lockwood

Region 10 Bob Wagner, Miles City

Region 11 Lance Juedeman, Geraldine

MUNCIPLE DIRECTORS

Billings Theresa Stroebe

Bozeman Bruce Grubbs

Butte Rayelynn Connole

Great Falls Jan Cahill (President)

Helena Joe Cohenour

Kalispell Mary Ruby

Missoula Dr. Joe Knapp

Indian School Board Caucus Representative

James DeHerrera, Poplar

NSBA Representative

Joanne Schmidt, Fairfield


MREA BOARD OF DIRECTORS

REGIONAL DIRECTORS

Region 1

Kris Kuehn (President), Malta Superintendent

Kiley Lange, Savage Trustee

Region 2

Tim Tharp (Vice-President), Sunburst Superintendent

Bryan Duvall, Geraldine Trustee

Region 3

Wade Johnson, Cut Bank Superintendent

Dean Berkam, Cut Bank Trustee

Region 4

Jule Walker, Plevna Superintendent

Dick Cameron, Ashland Trustee

At-Large

Dennis Gerke, Centerville Superintendent

Dave Selvig, Scobey Superintendent

Past President

John McNeil

Working together for K-12 Public Education

Over the past two years, our nation has been struggling to recover from the largest economic downturn since the Great Depression. At its peak in 1933, 25% of the eligible American workforce was unable to find work. Montana School Boards Association and the Montana Rural Education Association know that by working together to represent the best interests of every public school child in the state of Montana we can continue to play a key role in jump starting Montana’s economic revival.

We all know that a well educated workforce is a key component in a high functioning business community, which is the leading factor in developing a strong economy. Montana’s public schools play a key role in keeping Montanan’s working by employing over 14,000 full-time staff across the state. Schools also play a vital role in the long-term economic impact by educating over 140,000 children at 829 different public schools across the state. These are challenging time for parents, students and educators as 35% on Montana’s public school children qualify for free or reduced lunch programs. K-12 public education is up for the challenge.

Across the nation, state governments have been dealing with dramatic budget shortfalls which threaten funding for elementary and secondary education. Montana has not been immune to the effects of the Great Recession, and neither have the state’s public schools. The State of Montana has shorted public education more than $80 million in state land revenue from coal leases on Otter Creek and $30.7 million from the Federal Education Jobs Fund Act Jobs and used it to shore up the state general fund.

The 2010 Poll of Montana voters revealed praise for K-12 public schools and a clear expression of support in funding the state’s school districts. Montanans are clear that state funding for schools should be a priority. They also show strong support for local control when it pertains to consolidating school districts.

At a time when the state legislature is considering reducing funding at the state level, the 2010 MTSBA/MREA Poll suggests the general public is standing behind Montana’s school districts and shows that decreasing education funding is viewed as enormously unpopular. Instead, likely voters believe that the state needs to invest additional resources in our state’s public schools.

MTSBA and MREA will continue to work together in their efforts to advocate for public education students in Montana.


TABLE OF CONTENTS

OVERVIEW ............................................

MONTANA SCHOOL BOARDS ASSOCITION

MONTANA RURAL EDUCATIUON ASSOCIATION

HIGHLIGHTS ......................................... 2

POLL HIGHLIGHTS

EDUCATION FUNDING

EDUCATION QUALITY

DECISION MAKING

ABOUT THE 2010 POLL

EDUCATION QUALITY ….................... 8

TABLE 1: GRADING PUBLIC SCHOOLS

TABLE 2: INVEST IN TRAINING FOR SCHOOL BOARD MEMBERS

CONSOLIDATION …….….................... 9

TABLE 3: WHO SHOULD DECIDE WHEN SCHOOLS CONSOLIDATE?

TABLE 4: SHOULD SCHOOLS CONSOLIDATE?

TABLE 5: WHY WOULD YOU OPPOSE CONSOLIDATION?

EDUCATION FUNDING ....................... 11

TABLE 6: STATE BUDGET PRIORITIES

TABLE 7: DECREASE IN STATE FUNDING ALLOCATION FOR EDUCATION

TABLE 8: STATEWIDE INITATIVE

TABLE 9: STATE LAND LEASE REVENUES

TABLE 10: FEDERAL JOBS MONEY

TABLE 11: FIX BUDGET SHORTFALL

TABLE 12: NO NEW TAXES

TABLE 13: SUPPORT ELECTED OFFICIALS WHO SUPPORT PUBLIC EDUCATION

ABOUT Montana School Boards Association

The Montana School Boards Association (MTSBA) is a statewide association of public school boards whose mission is to encourage and advance public elementary and secondary education through the unique American tradition of local citizen responsibility. Since 1926, MTSBA has been firmly committed to the concept of public education policy being determined by locally elected school board members and has served as the service association for those individuals. MTSBA's membership encompasses virtually all the state's locally elected boards of trustees and provides access to a wide range of services, including seminars, legislative representation, legal assistance, personnel services, search services, policy development, in-district consulting services, and insurance programs. The association also serves as a liaison between local school boards, various state agencies and organizations.

MTSBA’S CORE IDEOLOGY

Core ideology describes an association's consistent identity that transcends all changes related to its relevant environment. It consists of two elements - core purpose - the association's reason for being - and core values - essential and enduring principles that guide an association. Envisioned future conveys a concrete yet unrealized vision for the association. It consists of a big audacious goal - a clear and compelling catalyst that serves as a focal point for effort - and a vivid description - vibrant and engaging descriptions of what it will be like to achieve the big audacious goal.

MTSBA’S CORE PURPOSE

“To maximize the potential of every child through school board leadership”

MTSBA’S CORE VALUES

§ Advocacy Focused on Children: MTSBA will lead advocacy efforts on behalf of our membership to ensure that Montana’s system of public education is focused on high student achievement, full development of the potential of all children, and development of the whole child through a system of education that includes music and the arts, healthy habits and early childhood education.

§ Rational, Adequate Funding: MTSBA commits to funding, at all levels, which is rationally related to standards, mandates, values and all other necessary operational costs.

§ Visionary Leadership: MTSBA will provide services that strengthen the effectiveness of local school boards as governors of public education. MTSBA will be visionary, dynamic and solution-oriented in all programs and services.

§ Cultural Integrity: MTSBA commits to the preservation of and education regarding the cultural integrity of our American Indian populations.

§ Commitment to Preserving Local Control: MTSBA commits to preservation of supervision and control of public schools by elected school boards.

ABOUT Montana Rural Education Association

The Montana Rural Education Association is an organization which is concerned about all aspects of the K-12 public education system in rural Montana. The organization is particularly concerned with the following basic educational premises:

§ That equality of educational opportunity regardless of their geographic location is a constitutional right of all Montana students;

§ That the state must provide a funding system which provides adequate funds for all students in Montana;

§ That the "local control" provided to school boards in the Montana Constitution be realized in all aspects of school district proceedings;

§ MREA supports the accreditation standards adopted by the Board of Public Education, provided sufficient state funding is available for implementation of the standards;

§ MREA is opposed to the "forced consolidation" of school districts. Forced consolidation is legislative, administrative or executive action taken at the state or regional levels that mandates the consolidation of school districts.

MREA’S COMMITTMENTS

§ MREA is committed to providing all students of Montana equality of educational opportunity. Each person in this state must be offered equal educational opportunity of they are to achieve individual success. MREA is not only committed to educational equality, but just as important, to quality educational experience.

§ MREA is committed to work toward an educational funding system that is weighted to reflect the increased cost of educating students in rural areas of Montana, including all aspects of state ANB funding, transportation and capital outlay.

§ MREA shall work to ensure that the control and supervision of local school districts remain at the local level.

§ MREA realizes that the consolidation of school districts in Montana has been a voluntary and ongoing process, and strongly believes that local communities and school boards are in the best position to evaluate and initiate voluntary consolidation efforts and will only support consolidation on that premise.

§ MREA is committed to work with all other educational groups for the betterment of Montana students.

§ MREA will insure that effective lobbying efforts are undertaken with the Montana Legislature, the State Board of Public Education, the Office of Public Instruction and all other public or private entities that have an effect on rural education in Montana.

§ MREA pledges that its members will receive timely information regarding issues that affect rural education in Montana and will also encourage the participation of member districts in lobbying efforts when appropriate.


POLL HIGHLIGHTS
EDUCATION FUNDING

Montana voters believe K-12 education funding should be increased.

A majority of Montana voters support elected officials who support increased funding for K-12 public education.

Montana voters overwhelming chose K-12 educa­tion when asked to identify what they believe should be the top priority in the state budget.

Voters disagree with the state’s recent decision to use emergency federal education aid to balance the state’s budget.

A great majority of Montanans believe that revenues from state land leases should go directly to public education and not the state general fund.

Those polled are concerned that K-12 education spend­ing, as a percent of the state budget, has decreased in the past decade.

The majority of Montana voters expressed support for possible initiated measures that would deliver increased funding to schools.

EDUCATION QUALITY

When asked to grade schools based on the quality of education students receive, most give schools in their community an A or B.

An overwhelming majority of Montana voters believe that school districts should invest in training for their volunteer school board members.

DECISION MAKING

Voters overwhelmingly believe local school boards are best positioned to make decisions about when it may be time to consolidate or merge with another school district.

Most Montanans agree that school districts should invest in training to help school board mem­bers become more effective in their positions.

ABOUT THE POLL OF MONTANA VOTERS

OVERVIEW
Zogby International was commis­sioned by MTSBA and MREA to conduct a telephone survey of 700 likely Montana voters. The survey was con­ducted November 8-9, 2010.


MARGIN OF ERROR
The margin is +/- 3.8 percentage points. Margins of error are higher for sub-groups. Numbers have been rounded to the nearest percent.

QUESTIONS
The survey featured 27 questions, including demographic questions, which were developed jointly by MTSBA/MREA and Zogby International. For ques­tions with several possible answers, response options were rotated.

SAMPLE
Participants were randomly drawn from telephone CDs of a national listed sample.

SAMPLE CHARACTERISTICS

AFFILIATION

34% Republican

30% Democratic

36% Independent


AGE GROUP

18-24: 10.2%

25-34: 16.3%

35-54: 35.1%

55-69: 25.5%

70+: 1.6%


COMMUNITY SIZE

24.1% 50,000 or more

15.0% 25,001 to 50,000

6.1% 12,001 to 25,000

10.2% 6,500 to 12,000

38.4% 6,499 or less


CHILDREN UNDER AGE 17

64% do not have children under age 18 living at home

36% have children under age 18 living at home


TABLE ONE: GRADING PUBLIC EDUCATION

QUESTION: If you had to give a letter grade to the K-12 public schools in your community based on the quality of education children enrolled are receiving, would you give them an A, B, C, D, or F?


The two charts above compare how Montana voters graded the school in their local communities versus the national PDK Poll. Montana schools are graded higher by their local communities than the national average (1). A plurality of Montana voters (61%) say they would give K-12 public schools in their community a letter grade of better than average based on the quality of education children enrolled are receiving. A large portion (17%) gave their school a grade of A, while only 3% of Montana’s would give their local school a failing grade.

TABLE 2: INVEST IN TRAINING FOR SCHOOL BOARD MEMBERS
QUESTION: Please tell us if you agree or disagree with the following statement: “School districts should invest in training school board members to become more effective in their positions.”

A strong majority (84%) people polled said that they agree with the statement: “School districts should invest in training school board members to become more effective in their positions,” a majority of those (53%) say they strongly agree with the statement. A small percentage (15%) disagree that public schools should invest in training for their volunteer school board members.

TABLE 3: WHO SHOULD DECIDE WHEN SCHOOLS CONSOLIDATE
QUESTION: Which of the following do you think should be most responsible for deciding whether school districts should merge or consolidate?

An overwhelming majority of likely voters in Montana (82%) believe that the communities impacted by consolidation should be the most responsible for deciding whether school districts should merge or consolidate, while just 12% say either the state legislature or executive branch should be responsible for such a decision.

TABLE 4: SHOULD SCHOOLS BE FORCED TO CONSOLIDATE
QUESTION: Do you agree or disagree that some Montana public school districts should be forced to consolidate?

Over half of Montana voters (52%) say that that Montana public school districts should not be forced to consolidate. Of those that do not believe that Montana public school districts should be forced to consolidate a large majority (29%) of respondents say they strongly disagree with the concept of forced consolidation. To most of the respondents, their discussion was not based upon whether or not it would be their school district consolidating.


TABLE 5: WHY WOULD YOU OPPOSE FORCED CONSOLIDATION?
QUESTION: Which of the following would make you most likely to oppose forced consolidation?

Montana voters would be most likely to oppose forced consolidation upon learning that it decreases student achievement (54%), followed by 18% who say that they would oppose consolidation upon learning that it does not save money and 14% who say learning that it strengthens union influence in public schools. In reality, all three of those statements are correct.

School Consolidation in Montana - Fictions and Facts:

· Fiction: There are 417 school districts, each operating separately in Montana.
Fact: Many of those 417 districts operate jointly with another. For example, Columbia Falls has a high school and elementary district, but operate with one superintendent and board, which create a school system. There are 298 school systems in Montana.

· Fiction: There are too many administrators in Montana.
Fact: In 2009, there were 109 full time superintendents in Montana. Public education in Montana had 16.5 FTEs (Teacher, Library staff, counselor and no educator licensed staff) employees for every 1 administrator (Superintendent, Assistant Superintendent, Principal and Assistant Principal). The employee-to-executive/manager ratio for Public Administration (e.g. state and local government) is 3.5-to-1 (2).

Additional facts about consolidation:

· The argument that consolidation saves money is based upon the premise of economies of scale. Analysis shows that cost savings from massive school and district consolidation have not been realized. There is no evidence that consolidation of schools will result in reduced expenses (3). Bigger is not always better for reducing costs.

· Students in larger schools tend to be more disconnected, which often requires special programs to address dropouts and discipline. In large schools, the sense of belonging and cohesiveness is diminished (3). Bigger is not always better in engaging children in the school day.

· Small schools in high-poverty communities produced higher student achievement than the larger consolidated buildings. Poverty exerts a larger detrimental effect in large schools in large districts (3). Bigger is not always better in increasing student achievement.


TABLE 6: STATE BUDGET PRIORITIES

QUESTION: When it comes to how state government spends your tax dollars, which of the following areas do you think should be the highest priority?



A majority of likely voters in Montana (61%) say that when it comes to how state government spends their tax dollars, K-12 public school education should be the highest priority. Just one in nine (11%) say the highest priority should be social programs for the aged and disabled and one in ten (10%) say the priority should be higher education, including vo-tech.

TABLE 7: DECREASE IN STATE FUNDING ALLOCATION FOR EDUCATION

QUESTION: From 1991 through 2010, the percentage of Montana’s total state budget devoted to K-12 public education funding has decreased from 51 percent to 34 percent. Knowing this, are you very concerned, somewhat concerned, not very concerned, or not at all concerned that the percentage of the state budget spent on K-12 public education has decreased?

A strong majority of likely voters (79%) say they are concerned about the decrease in K-12 funding from 51% to 34% since 1991, with 44% saying they are very concerned with such a decrease and 35% stating they were somewhat concerned. Only 19% of Montana voters say they are unconcerned with this decrease.

TABLE 8: STATEWIDE INITATIVE

QUESTION: If you had the opportunity to vote on a statewide measure that would require the state to gradually restore the percentage of the state budget devoted to K-12 education back to 51 percent, would you most likely support or oppose the initiated measure?

Most voters polled (72%) say they would support a statewide measure that would require the state to gradually restore the percentage of the state budget devoted to K-12 back to 51%. Those who say they strongly support the measure (47%) are almost triple those who strongly oppose it (16%).

TABLE 9: STATE LAND LEASE REVENUES

QUESTION: State land revenues from leases and other income are devoted to support public elementary and high school education under the Montana Constitution. More recently, state policymakers have used $81 million generated from coal leases on the otter creek state lands to balance the state budget for all government spending. In your opinion, should the state use this money to help balance the state’s budget, or should this money go directly to local school districts?


A majority (55%) say they think that schools should receive money from land leases and other income under the Montana Constitution, but a third (33%) say they think that money should be used to balance the state budget.


TABLE 10: FEDERAL JOBS MONEY

QUESTION: Recently, Congress approved and the President signed the Education Jobs Fund Act, delivering emergency aid to save jobs in K-12 public schools. Montana has received approximately $30 million under this program, but state policymakers have used these funds to balance the state budget for all government spending. In your opinion, should the state use this money to help balance the state’s budget or should this money go directly to local school districts?

More than three quarters of likely voters (77%) say that schools should receive the money from the Education Jobs Fund Act, while 16% say it should balance the state budget and 7% are not sure what should be done with the money.

TABLE 11: FIX BUDGET SHORTFALL
QUESTION: The staff for the Legislature estimate that the cost of maintaining current levels of government service in Montana will be approximately $370 million more than projected revenues over the coming two years. Which one of the following options best represents your views regarding how to solve this issue?

Only 2% of Montana voters believe that K-12 public education should be cut to address the current shortfall in the Montana state general fund. Cutting all government spending (38%) and cutting all spending except public education (35%) receive similar support. Sixteen percent say they would like taxes raised to the extent necessary to pay for the projected costs of maintaining current levels of service in public education. In a recent poll conducted nationally by CNBC, 67% of Americans polled opposed reducing federal spending on education. (4)

TABLE 12: NO NEW TAXES
QUESTION: If you knew the money would be used to increase student achievement by increasing graduation rates, reducing drop-out rates, eliminating achievement gaps and increasing test scores, would you support or oppose implementation of a 2% income or sales tax?

During these difficult economic times the majority of Montana voters (58%) said they oppose any tax increases even if they knew the money would be used to increase student achievement.

TABLE 13: SUPPORT ELECTED OFFICIALS WHO SUPPORT PUBLIC EDUCATION
QUESTION: Please tell us which type of elected official you most support, one who supports increased funding for K-12 public education, one who supports decreasing spending in K-12 public education, or one who supports freezing spending for K-12 public education?

While Montanans do not support an increase in taxes, most of Montana’s voters (59%) say they most support an elected official who supports increased funding for K-12 education. Only 19% support a candidate who would freeze funding for K-12 public education. One in 10 likely voters (10%) say the elected official’s position on K-12 education funding is irrelevant to their support of the candidate.


WRAP UP

Lance Melton

Exec Director, Montana School Boards Association

ave Puyear
Exec Director, Montana Rural Education Association

References

(1) A Time for Change, Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup Poll, September 2010

(2) Educational Research Service (ERS) Report using U.S. Bureau of Labor statistics, 1998

(3) Merger/Consolidation of School Districts: Does it save money and improve student achievement, Pennsylvania School Boards Association, April 2009

(3) Telephone survey of the American general population, AP-CNBC, November 2010


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