OPINION: Why not consolidate our school districts?

Earlier this week I visited with two officials from the Pontotoc City School District about their budget woes.
Because it has historically had a bigger industrial base than some other towns its size, Pontotoc has suffered a disproportionate blow to its tax base with the economic downturn.
On top of that, Wal-Mart built a new Supercenter in the county school district and closed its old store, and the city school district is projecting budget cuts that will be more than uncomfortable.
The officials expressed genuine concern that if the trend were to continue, Pontotoc City School District might someday cease to exist.
Why not now?
Despite the way it sounds at first, the district’s disappearance would not be a Doomsday scenario.
All the schools would still open. Students would still ride yellow buses, eat lunch in cafeterias, interact with teachers and do homework. The Warriors would still battle it out on the gridiron, the court and the diamond with the Vikings, the Cougars and all the other usual opponents.
What the administrators feared was that the city school district itself would have to combine operations with Pontotoc County School District. A lot of parents have emotional ties to the city district, they said.
I understand. Change is usually uncomfortable. But having one district to serve both city and county would offer efficiencies that really ought to be considered before a crisis kicks in.
It would mean one school board – not two.
One superintendent – not two.
One business office – not two.
One bus system, one food service, one maintenance system – not two.
If DeSoto County can serve 30,000 students with one district, surely Pontotoc County could serve 5,600.
And this isn’t to pick on Pontotoc. If not for us-vs.-them mindsets, Oxford and Lafayette County could do the same. New Albany and Union County could, too.
Then there are Holly Springs and Marshall County, Starkville and Oktibbeha County, Corinth and Alcorn County.
West Point could easily oversee Clay County’s students (all 154 of them, by last year’s count). North Tippah and South Tippah could combine their 4,000 or so.
Aberdeen, Amory and Monroe County.
Baldwyn, Booneville and Prentiss County.
Chickasaw, Houston and Okolona.
Tupelo, Nettleton and Lee County.
The efficiencies to be had from combining districts are available now. Why wait for a crisis?

Contact Daily Journal Oxford Bureau reporter Errol Castens at (662) 281-1069 or errol.castens@djournal.com. Read his blog at NEMS360.com.

Errol Castens/NEMS Daily Journal