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Michigan Study Pits Rural Identity Versus Economy

How much is local identity in small, rural communities worth? Add another state to the list of those trying to answer that controversial question when it comes to funding schools.

A newspaper company in Michigan commissioned a study by Michigan State University's Education Policy Center that shows the state could save millions of dollars by consolidating its system of 550 public school districts. Read Booth Newspapers' story published Sunday that kicks off a week of coverage exploring the issues surrounding school consolidation. You can download the overall findings here.

The study suggests two models for consolidation, neither of which would close any schools—or so the newspapers report. The first scenario would create county-level districts organized, administrated and governed around county lines. That's similar to how schools are organized in many states such as Florida, Virginia, and North Carolina.

The second option would keep local school district boundaries intact but consolidate food service, transportation, and maintenance at the county level.

As state and local budgets struggle with the impacts of a deep recession, consolidation has reappeared in a number of states, including Vermont, Maine, and Mississippi.

Yet all have struggled with the fallout, including the loss of jobs and fiery local opposition to either closing small schools or losing the local governing boards that oversee them. In small, rural communities, a school is a focal point. Having a local school board gives residents an avenue to have a say in what happens in their schools.

The bottom line: What are those attachments worth in economic times so harsh that many of those districts are wondering whether they can stay open?

The coverage in Michigan is generally positive toward consolidation, including this look at how a county district in Florida saves millions in administrative costs.

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