EDITORIAL: 'Optimum structure'

By NEMS Daily Journal

Gov. Barbour’s special commission on school district consolidation started work on Monday with a restating of the questions and issues it will explore before making its recommendations later in 2010. Its open-mindedness points to the possibility of stepping outside convention to find what would work best – or at least better.
Mississippi’s 152 school districts – the product of earlier realignments and consolidations – certainly aren’t set in stone. There’s no ultimate source of education wisdom decreeing that districts have to look like what exists from the past; the opposition to change almost always rises from people who are comfortable – too comfortable – within the status quo.
Opponents of change and innovation, it should be noted, aren’t always within the structure of public education. Sometimes, school and community supporters perceive a threat to narrower special interests, like athletics, that are important but not determinative.
Commission Chairman Aubrey Patterson, the chairman of BancorpSouth and a Tupelo resident, said the overall work of the panel will be finding the “optimum structure to enhance the quality of our schools.”
That wide-ranging descriptive leaves the commission lots of latitude to examine, analyze and recommend from across the spectrum of experience – in Mississippi and in other states.
The consulting firm hired to offer information and assist – Augenblich, Palaich out of Colorado – helped develop the Mississippi Adequate Education Program funding formula, a bellwether achievement more than a decade ago. MAEP replaced the funding apparatus that had been in place since the reforms, including consolidations, of the 1950s.
Others – including a legislative study committee and the state Board of Education – are working in parallel but not in collaboration with the commission.
At some point the work and findings of the commission and the others groups working intentionally on the issue will be poured into some kind of common pot in hopes of crafting improvements.
Some of the best minds and most experienced people in Mississippi are involved in examining school district restructuring.
“Economy of scale” is the 19th century idea that has historically powered consolidation, but Patterson’s optimum structure is a better model, and more flexible.
Widespread but not uniform consolidation in the 1950s led to changes in teaching and curriculum just as desegregation rose as an issue.
Now, desegregated schools must change their methods for educating the 21st century workforce and at the same time maximize resources.
No one can reasonably argue with getting optimum value from every tax dollar raised and spent on education. At the bottom line, that’s the goal of the commission – and others.