Putting the pieces together: A research based handbook for school district administrators and board of education members that examines school consolidation and the process of a merger feasibility study
Chabe, Laura Katherine
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The process of school consolidation is not new or unique to school districts in New York State. Recent efforts by rural school districts to consolidate has led to some approved mergers as well as generated a fair amount of controversy and a large number of rejected proposals. This study will evaluate both accepted and rejected merger attempts to identify the major factors influencing these outcomes and to assist district officials in planning future consolidation efforts. To better understand and appreciate the comprehensive process that is followed when a merger feasibility study is completed, 20 merger feasibility studies from rural school districts in upstate Western New York were collected and analyzed. In order to evaluate the most current processes that take place when a feasibility study is completed, the studies collected were from 1986–2010. This dissertation project based the merger feasibility study analysis on a set of 27 different variables. These variables were a combination of recommendations and requirements by the New York State Education Department and consultants hired to complete the studies. These variables are explicitly stated, defined and then organized in categories for ease of use and clarity. In addition to the analysis of the variables, attention was given to the narrative components of the merger feasibility studies. This was done in an effort to identify consistent patterns of responses, concerns, questions or general information that exists between the districts involved in these feasibility studies. It also provides relevant, documented and current information to other districts that may be contemplating a merger feasibility study in their schools. The outcome of this merger feasibility study analysis was the development of a handbook. The purpose of this handbook is to provide a premerger feasibility study guide for districts considering a merger that specifically focuses on the process of conducting a school merger feasibility study. Through my own experiences as a school superintendent involved in this process, I quickly learned how little I knew about the feasibility study. Not only was I unaware of the specific information that would be required within the study, I was also unaware of the complexity of the emotional impact this would have on community members and staff members. This handbook attempts to address both of these critical issues. With the development and implementation of a user-friendly handbook/premerger study guide, Boards of Education and school administrators will acquire useful knowledge about the practices and procedures involved in this process and the information they will need to complete a merger feasibility study. In addition, it will give both the school and the community an opportunity to truly assess the support or resistance that they should expect if they choose to move forward with a feasibility study. Finally, it sets a tone of transparency about the process that involves the community and the school at large. Educating our children today is an incredible and rewarding responsibility that under normal circumstances can be extremely challenging. A major initiative such as a school consolidation study can add significant pressure to an already complex system. It is my hope that the recommended guidelines formulated in this handbook will minimize negative impacts on rural communities regardless of the outcome of the feasibility studies. Ultimately, this will allow districts to continue to provide cooperative educational, social, economic and cultural opportunities for our students and our communities.