Pennsylvania has 501 school districts, many of them quite small and of bush-league.
To overcome the bush-leagueredness of these too-small districts, PA created the Intermediate Units - a system of 29 larger shadow districts that fulfill key policy and programmatic functions that the 501 tiny school districts are too bush-league to afford on their own.
Like all good things in PA, the Intermediate Units are advisory-only and don’t have any real authority over curriculum or district policies. But that’s a big mistake. The Intermediate Units should be the real school districts. At the very least they should be the school district tax bases, if we aren’t going with 100% state funding.
Not only would the Intermediate Units offer more professional governance than bush-league volunteer school boards, but dissolving the school boards into the Intermediate Units would save taxpayers money.
The Center for American Progress is out with a new report touting school district consolidation as a potential way to improve district management, save money, and improve student outcomes. The report cautions against one-size-fits-all approaches, since consolidations could face other coordination and information problems. But this is why the case for dissolving PA’s school districts into the Intermediate Units is so strong. The IUs are already working closely with the schools and teachers in their districts. All they are really lacking is governance authority:
•States should generally avoid one-size-fits-all approaches to maximizing district size. While our report finds that many districts suffer from lost capacity due to their small size, there is no easy solution to this problem, and the best solution for one district may not be the best solution for another. The evidence suggests that policymakers should take an approach that does more to take into account the context of local districts and their needs and do more to improve overall systems of education management.
•States and districts must reform school-management systems. Policymakers must create performance-focused management systems that are flexible on inputs and strict on outcomes. States and districts should also take this opportunity to rethink the role that school districts play in our education system.
•States and districts should consider regionalization and the sharing of services and resources where possible. States can help ease the cost burden of small districts through the creation of state-supported education-service agencies serving a group of two or more small districts to increase overall productivity.