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      Mergers and shared services saves some schools money
                                     By ALEX DOTY
                                    Capital News Service

LANSING – Increased expenses and low enrollment are two major reasons why school

officials consider consolidation, experts say.

        Louise Somalski, a lobbyist for the Michigan chapter of the American Federation

of Teachers, said more mergers – the process in which two or more districts combine –

need to occur.

        “We’ve got a lot of districts in trouble financially, and a lot of districts need to be

looking at this,” she said.

        The process can be challenging, Somalski said, because many issues must be


        “They have to get over being rivals on the football field,” she said.

        Loyalties to mascots and school colors can pose problems, but it’s something

communities need to work around.

        Iris Salters, president of the Michigan Education Association, said consolidation

should be a community decision.

        “There is so much of a community’s identity tied to a school district,” she said.

        A recent example is the 2004 consolidation of the Wakefield and Marenisco

districts in the western Upper Peninsula. That was the first consolidation in Michigan

since 1987.
        Carrie Nyman, principal of the Wakefield-Marenisco School, said the Wakefield

district had fewer than 150 students and the Marenisco district had 70 to 80 students

before the consolidation.

        Now the district has about 300 students.

        Area residents worked together to decide on school colors. They chose red, white

and blue - colors from both districts.

        Nyman said there have been minor negative effects from the consolidation, but

nothing that’s unmanageable.

        One issue is transportation for students who live more than 15 minutes’ driving

distance from the school, Nyman said.

        “I don’t think it’s greater than any other district in the state,” she said.

        The transfer of jobs was another issue the district had to solve.

        “The hardest thing the board had to deal with was people’s livelihoods,” Nyman

said. “Everything went fairly smooth and they hired back most of the staff.”

        For two districts to consolidate, at least 10 school board members from two or

more school districts must submit a request to the intermediate school district’s


        The final action must be approved by voters in all affected districts.

        New board members must be elected to govern the consolidated district.

        Jennifer Rogers, director of communications at the Michigan Association of

School Boards, said her group encourages districts to save money through any and all

        The association sees a need for districts to consolidate when necessary, but the

matter is an issue of local control, she said.

        An alternative, Rogers said, is for districts to share services.

        One example is the Glen Lake and Suttons Bay districts, which share a


        The association said 40 percent of education dollars are spent on business

operations such as transportation, maintenance, janitorial and food services, and

switching just a quarter of non-instructional costs to shared services would save public

schools $9 billion per year.

        Legislation introduced by Rep. Phil Pavlov, R-St. Clair Township, would assist

school districts, intermediate school districts, and public school academies to operate

more efficiently by facilitating consolidation of services and reducing costs.

        The legislation is likely to die in committee at the end of the year.


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