This past April, the South Carolina Department of Education (SCDE) released results of an efficiency study of small, rural districts. The study showed the state could save $35 million to $89.6 million over five years if the districts were to consolidate, or at the very least, merge district level functions, such as accounting, human resources, procurement and transportation. A study of the 32 plaintiff school districts in the 1993 Abbeville school funding lawsuit was ordered by the General Assembly through a 2016-2017 budget proviso. The study did not evaluate indicators of student achievement such as income, community resources, etc.
Meanwhile, a bill to consolidate the three school districts in Orangeburg County was making its way through the legislature. It ultimately passed but was vetoed by the Governor.
And finally during a recent report on education, State Superintendent Molly Spearman told a Senate committee studying education equity that consolidation is “difficult and emotional,” but something the state needs to consider.
Currently, there are 81 school district in 46 counties in the state governed by boards that are elected, appointed or some combination of the two. In addition, no uniformity exists for school board fiscal autonomy.
Districts that have most recently undergone consolidation were Marion and Sumter counties. While some lawmakers acknowledge consolidation does not always save money, others continue to point to the savings argument.
As the General Assembly continues to face the challenges of funding core services, the issue of consolidating school districts may be seen by some as a way to save money for the state.
Legislation already filed
- House bill 3023 is a joint resolution that would establish a committee to study the feasibility and cost effectiveness of consolidating school districts within the individual counties. In making its determinations, the committee will consider potential savings that may occur from the centralization of the administrative and programmatic functions of several districts.
- House bill 3032 prohibits having multiple school districts within county boundaries and requires the consolidation of school districts by county, beginning July 1, 2019.
- Senate bill 36 would require each school district to have at least 2,500 students enrolled in the schools of the district in order to receive state funding but would not apply to a county school district that has less than 2,500 students.
SCSBA position statement
SCSBA believes in consolidation or deconsolidation of school districts provided that in each district affected a referendum is held and a majority of the voters voting in the referendum in each affected district authorizes consolidation or deconsolidation. Each district shall have equal voice in the consolidation or deconsolidation question.