Steve Anderson | July 19, 2016

How to keep rural schools open

Steve Anderson

Every budget crunch brings another call for consolidation of Oklahoma school districts and the pushback from rural residents and their legislators. We can expect more of the same in next year’s legislative session.

It is difficult for those in urban areas, especially when they look at the high per-pupil expenditures necessary to keep some rural schools open, to understand the ire that is raised in rural communities by the “consolidation” movement.

The reality is that there is only so much funding available in a tight budget year, and it is time to be proactive in providing solutions that can keep rural schools open. Changes in structure and how schools operate—changes that for years have been resisted by local school boards and the educational establishment—will need to be accepted. Let’s consider a few.

Shared Superintendency

The idea that every school needs a superintendent, principal, and full support staff on site is a concept whose time has come and gone. A school board and community wishing to retain their local school’s autonomy should enter into a cooperative agreement consolidating administrative functions with other smaller school districts while also outsourcing functions like payroll and accounting. Addressing these non-instructional overhead expenses, if properly done, should have no effect on student achievement while reducing costs for every school in the contract.

Virtual Learning

Sharing staff through virtual classrooms represents another opportunity to minimize expenditures while maximizing both the quality of instruction and the number of course offerings. There is a large array of different entities offering online courses, including Stanford University. In addition, Silicon Valley High School, recently certified by the University of California system, only charges between $50 and $100 per course. These online courses allow a small school to provide every course that a large urban school might have—and then some. At most, these online courses require a proctor to monitor the classroom environment, all while providing access to top-quality teachers regardless of the location of the district. The proctor need not be a certified teacher but simply can be a responsible adult engaged on a part-time basis, thus avoiding the health insurance and retirement costs of a certified teacher. While it does require computer and Internet access, the savings in teacher salaries and benefits and direct overhead costs should be considerable while allowing a small school to broaden its course offerings.

Read the rest over at The Enid News & Eagle.

Steve Anderson

Contributing Author

A Certified Public Accountant with more than 30 years of experience in private practice, he is currently a partner at Anderson, Reichert & Anderson LLC. Anderson spent two years as a budget analyst in the Oklahoma Office of State Finance, and most recently served as budget director for the State of Kansas. At one time he held 17 state teaching certifications ranging from mathematics to physics to business.

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