November 2018 Editorial Winner

Face it
Wayne Trotter, Countywide & Sun

“You can’t justify this many school districts to anyone.”
That comment comes from Dr. James R. Machell, dean of the College of Education and Professional Studies at the University of Central Oklahoma. Dr. Machell made the remark back in September through The Oklahoman and he may well live to regret having ever said anything at all. The ground he walks on is proven to be very shaky.
Others have been there before him and a few of those emerged unscathed. Will Dr. Machell? Only time will tell.
Dr. Machell, you should understand, is the author of a report entitled Right-sizing Oklahoma Districts: Examining district size, enrollment and superintendent compensation in Oklahoma school districts. In the past, that has been political dynamite in much of this state. Simply raising the subject can lead directly to discussion of school district consolidation and that can end in cursing, fistfights and worse. Only the wary should touch this subject … and we while we have never met Dr. Machell, we strongly suspect he is very wary indeed.
In his report, Dr. Machell noted that the number of school districts in the United States has declined drastically over time. He notes that there were 117,108 districts operating in this country between 1930 and 1940 but by 2006-07, that number had declined to 13,862, an 88 percent decrease. Even with that rate of consolidation, he notes that it has been estimated that as much as a billion dollars annually could be saved through additional reorganization.
A billion a year? As granddad used to say, that ain’t hay. No way.
To back up his argument, Dr. Machell cites the similarity between Oklahoma’s educational structure and those of Alabama, Louisiana, Kentucky and Utah — all states with similar numbers of students. Oklahoma schools, for instance, served 693,000 students in 2015-16 while Alabama had 744,000, Louisiana 718,000, Kentucky 687,000 and Utah 647,000.
But guess what? While Oklahoma provided education through 607 different school districts, the most districts existing in any of the other states was 223 in Louisiana. Kentucky got the job done it through 196 districts. Among those five states the average number of students per district ranged from 4,133 in Alabama to 1,141 down home in
Oklahoma. Which is most efficient and effective?
Go figure!
Let’s leave the good doctor with his own problems and take a look at Pottawatomie County.
There are 14 school districts in this county. Four of those are “dependent” districts (kindergarten through eighth grade) but that number is on the verge of shrinking to three when North Rock Creek establishes its high school. That will leave Grove, Pleasant Grove and South Rock Creek as “dependents.” Two — Grove and Pleasant Grove — are within the Shawnee city limits. All three are fine schools but the concept is dated and standalone districts that do not offer a K-12 education are rare in other states … if they exist elsewhere at all.
Oklahoma district report cards/profiles have been, well, in some sort of unwarranted governmental limbo (aww … in Oklahoma?) and the latest confirmed information we could scrape up showed that the 10 diploma-granting county systems serve almost 11,500 students in 13 grades.
Four of the districts serve a thousand or more students led, of course, by Shawnee with 3,977 students. Tecumseh was next with 2,181 followed by McLoud with 1,841 and Bethel with 1,347.
Next in line was Dale with 782, Maud with 310, Macomb with 268, Earlsboro and Asher each with 284 and Wanette with 158. Again, these figures are a couple of years old but they do show that Shawnee’s enrollment is larger than Asher, Earlsboro, Wanette, Maud, Macomb, Dale and, yes, even Bethel all added together.
We know the arguments. We attended a small school ourselves. But let’s be truthful. The challenge is to give our children the finest education possible to prepare them for success in an increasingly technical age. Odds are most of them will leave Wanette, Asher, Macomb and perhaps even Tecumseh and Shawnee in search of better jobs and a better life. They are simply more likely to get the education they need in a larger setting with a more varied curriculum and hopefully more experienced teachers. That needs to be available here, not some place else.
For the sake of our future, Oklahoma needs to face that. So does Pottawatomie County.
For the record, the author of this editorial graduated from high school a long time ago with 13 other smiling seniors.

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