To have a realistic fantasy seem believable to readers an author needs to counterbalance their made-up world with as much reality as possible. J.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings series therefore relies on an elaborate backstory including fully-formed invented languages, J.K. Rowling brings in details from contemporary Britain and typical teenage drama to make the magical Hogwarts familiar to anyone who’s been to middle school.
However, a lack of believable detail is why the “We should consolidate the Gloucester elementary schools into one big mega-school” fantasy has failed to really catch hold the public’s imagination. Its proponents have consistently failed to ever provide any clues as to how this idea would work, even in the rogue alternative universe where citizens actually want that.
To backfill for a second: There is the occasional call by the Gloucester Daily Times saying the neighborhood elementary schools should all be consolidated into one big school. They claim this will save money and improve educational outcomes.
But this claim is a lot like saying vampires sparkle or that Unicorn pee tastes like cotton candy. There is no evidence its’ true. Quite the contrary, in fact (read below). And none of the proponents ever provides credible numbers or a simple spreadsheet or any case studies to show how this would work or be beneficial.
Let’s Clamsplore, shall we?
First, to do this you would need a really big-ass building. Fuller School will never be the place, it’s now essentially condemned and even when it was possible to use as as school the process of converting it was deemed far too expensive by these experts here. They determined it would have cost twice per square foot what Manchester/Essex and Ipswich paid for their new schools. So that would be a bad idea, paying twice as much. Fuller is out then, so give it up. It’s done. Move on from Fuller, we beg you. There is not one credible evaluation that shows the existing Fuller building being rehabbed into a consolidated school at a price point that would seem reasonable even to your most peyote-addled numerologist. Yes, they may do something else with the building, but not a school unless you bulldoze it flat first at which point you start again from near zero, costwise (some savings on grounds and site prep. But still, not a lot.)
Who pays for this big-ass building? This is a key question because the Commonwealth covers half the cost of rehabbing our existing schools on their educational facilities list. They will NOT cover the cost of making a new consolidated school out of whole cloth. So Gloucester is going to bear the total cost of a new school to achieve this amazing consolidation cost benefit? What’s that going to run us, 60 million bucks? More? We have to pay for the whole thing? Is someone planning to pass an override for that? A bond issue? Hello? How is there a fiscal benefit here if we just lost a minimum of 30 million bucks having to build the thing?
And what do we save? There are five elementary schools. You can’t hire any fewer teachers because of the mandated student-to-teacher ratio. Same with aides, specialists and all that. You can reliably cut out four principals, a couple of custodians and maybe a few kitchen folks along with a few other support staff. There’s your big economy of scale. And what do you get for it?
- You have to pay full price for a new building rather than going halfsises with the Commonwealth.
- Kids of all ages from all over the district now have to be bussed (at great cost) to this imaginary central school. Kindergarteners will be spending 40 min on a bus each way.
- Crappier educational outcomes. Hey! Actual data from the National Education Policy Center tracking the outcomes of districts who had tried consolidation! What do you know? (they also note the “cost savings” are largely fictitious)
“…Moreover, contemporary research does not support claims about the widespread benefits of consolidation. The assumptions behind such claims are most often dangerous oversimplifications… Research also suggests that impoverished regions in particular often benefit from smaller schools and districts, and they can suffer irreversible damage if consolidation occurs.”
Oh, wow. Weird. Actual experts in education at Ohio University tracked outcomes and found something completely opposite of what the education experts at the Gloucester Daily Times propose in their data-free editorial (paywall because sad). How strange. It’s almost as if those calling for consolidation in Gloucester did no research whatsoever and are simply making noises out of the wrong ends of their digestive tracts.
And what else do we, as a city, get in this amazing deal? Well, imagine you’re now a realtor trying to sell a house to a young couple in Magnolia, Lanesville or one of the neighborhoods off of Grapevine in East Gloucester. You have to tell them that their future five-year-olds will spend 80 minutes a day on a bus to to get to and from the consolidated elementary school. Sounds awesome huh?
It seems like this particular plan would actually dramatically increase the number of families “choicing out” of the district. I thought we were trying to decrease that number. Can someone explain how this would help?
But maybe someone has numbers somewhere that show what an awesome idea this would be? A case study? Some projections, a spreadsheet, a table graph or chart? I don’t know about you, Clampadres, but we here are getting pretty frigging sick of a bunch of half-baked “ideas” about how to run the town that come in completely fact-free packaging. Everyone talks about running the town more “like a business.” Sure, OK, I work in business. I deal with business innovations all the time.
The first thing the CEO says when you have an idea is: “Show me the numbers.” So let’s see them. Or is this whole consolidation thing less of an “idea” and more of an “ongoing obsession” for a certain people who will continue to advocate for it with no substantive proof points. Obsessions not based in reality are also called “fetishes,” by the way.
This is numbers-based argument. Let’s see some.
Great analysis on an important topic. Any thoughts on alternative solutions for addressing the $10M increase in school spending from 2002 to 2016 (as quoted by the GDT article in the post)?
I suggest you take a few minutes to familiarize yourself with the recently posted document that addresses the very questions of why the rise in costs. http://www.gloucesterschools.com/district-news/district-announcements/responsestofy16publichearingquestions
The issue with the 10M is the same issue with every department and company in the country: The out of control rise in health care costs. We only notice it in the school budget because they are the only department where employee health care is bundled with their line items, rather than as a separate city employee benefits bulk number. Health care. That’s it. There are also SPED mandates which can be very expensive, but look at the cost and then dig into the numbers for the rest of the city departments and you will find the same % increase in spending regarding health care.
Wait, are you saying costs in the private sector are going up too? That can’t be right, the private sector is efficient.
Mr. Dolan. Leave the snark to The Clam, please. We are in danger of a surfeit….