Experts Talk Pros and Cons of School Consolidation

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School administrators say that consolidating a school is an emotional issue with communities struggling to keep their identity while giving their students the best opportunities.

School consolidation is the theme of the Center for Great Plains Studies symposium at the University of Nebraska Kearney this weekend.

The Center, UNK, and UNL researchers say it's been a hot topic in Nebraska for years, but they don't think it's a thing of the past, so educators, administrators, and lawmakers using the conference to talk about its pros and cons.

"We'll be looking at what is the economic argument for or against consolidation? To what extent can school districts or can the state in terms of school aid save money by consolidation?" says Rick Edwards, Director of the Center for Great Plains Studies.

Edwards says there is a surprising lack of research in that area, though financial benefits are often touted when districts talk about merging or closing.

Dr. Virginia Moon, the interim superintendent for Omaha Public Schools, recently served as Broken Bow's interim superintendent. She says dollars shouldn't be the only factor a district considers.

"In my mind it shouldn't be done because of politics, it shouldn't be done because of economic reasons, it should be done in order to provide the best possible education experience and social, emotional, cultural experiences for students," she says.

Moon says that for western Nebraska consolidation might mean shuttering a one-room country school, merging with another district nearby, or even co-opting activities.

But she says shifting and aging populations impact districts like Omaha too.

"In the urban areas a lot of it has to do with the fact that there are not enough students or a different number of students in buildings," she says.

The symposium continues on Saturday at the Younes Conference Center in Kearney.