A bill in the Alaska legislature aims to consolidate the state’s 54 school districts into 18, notably reducing its number of districts based on "common geographic or cultural needs."
House Bill 194 would change the statute that mandates school district lines are drawn based on whether or not they are in an unorganized borough or organized borough or in places outside a borough, called regional educational attendance areas.
If the bill passes, school board members would be terminated and the new districts would launch July 1.
Consolidation is sometimes a viable option for districts dealing with tight budgets or low enrollment numbers as a result of a shrinking student population. In Alaska's Kenai Peninsula Borough School District, where consolidation is already being considered, the effort would save about $409,000 in operating costs. But consolidation could mean retaining beneficial programs and and sports, pool and theater facilities.
Alaska isn't alone — Illinois is also among states grappling with the possibility of district consolidation after a property tax relief report revealed school district consolidations would save the state's residents money. In South Carolina, the smallest districts could be awarded a total of $22 million in grants to build or upgrade regional education centers if they follow through on plans to consolidate their administrative offices. The grants are incentives for poorer, rural districts to merge after decades of resisting.
However, the benefits of consolidation are offset by costs like lowered parental accessibility of teachers and school staff, a changed culture and higher transportation costs for parents and students.