The purposes of this product are to 1) analyze state law regarding school district consolidations and 2) highlight attempted and successful school district consolidations that have occurred since the year 2000 in New York and Pennsylvania.
DATA AND RESEARCH METHODS FOR CONSOLIDATION ATTEMPT IDENTIFICATION
• New York state records of school district consolidations: a list of successful New York State mergers between 1996 and 2014 and rejected or ongoing mergers since 2010 was collected from the policy brief, Why do School District Mergers Fail? (2014), by the New York State Association of School Business Officials.
• Internet research: as described in greater detail below, internet research, including results from newspapers was used to identify additional successful and failed consolidations in New York and Pennsylvania since the year 2000.
Identification and classification of Pennsylvania attempted consolidations. To identify a list of school districts that attempted to consolidate, successfully or unsuccessfully, in Pennsylvania since 2000 we began with a history of school district consolidation in School Districts in Pennsylvania: Ways to Work Together by the Joint State Government Commission in 2017. This list included one successful school district consolidation since 2000. We conducted additional internet research to identify attempted consolidations since 2000. We categorized them as successful, rejected, and ongoing with the following definitions:
• Successful: If two or more districts became a single district.
• Rejected: If an entity representing a district involved in an attempted consolidation rejected the proposal, in the context of formal school board discussions or publicly reported informal discussions.
• Ongoing: If no district involved in an attempted consolidation has rejected the proposal, in the context of formal school board discussions or public reported informal discussions.
Identification and classification of New York attempted consolidations. To identify a list of school districts that attempted to consolidate, successfully or unsuccessfully, in New York since 2000, we began with a list of successful mergers between 1996 and 2014, and rejected or ongoing mergers since 2010, in the policy brief, Why do School District Mergers Fail? (2014), by the New York State Association of School Business Officials. We excluded mergers that happened prior to 2000 and conducted additional internet research to identify attempted consolidations since 2000. We categorized them as successful, rejected, and ongoing with the following definitions:
• Successful: If two or more districts became a single district through consolidation or annexation.
• Rejected: If one or more districts involved in an attempted consolidation or annexation rejected the proposal through a vote of the school board or a voter referendum.
• Ongoing: If districts involved in an attempted consolidation or annexation are in the process of securing board approval, conducting feasibility studies, or securing voter approval for a consolidation or annexation.
DATA AND METHODOLOGY FOR DISTRICT DEMOGRAPHICS
• School district-level total school-age poverty rates: school district-level poverty rate data for school-age children (those ages 5-17) come from the Census, Small Area Income and Poverty Estimates (SAIPE).
• School district enrollments and racial composition: the enrollment size and percent of school district enrollments for nonwhite students is derived from the US Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Common Core of Data (CCD).
• School district-level median property value: the median owner-occupied property value for school districts come from the Census, American Community Survey (ACS).
• School district revenues: figures on school districts’ per-pupil state and local revenues were computed, as described below, using student count and total revenue data from the Census, Annual Survey of School System Finances (F33).
• Pennsylvania school district property tax mill rates: property tax rates for education costs in Pennsylvania school districts in 1990 were provided by the Beaver County Assessment Office in Tax Levies, County-Local-School-Total Millages, 1982-1995, Beaver, PA: Beaver County Assessment Office.
Figures in the report and website come from the data sources described above. Further details about these figures are presented below.
School-age population and poverty. School-age poverty rates for school districts displayed in the map on the website and in the report’s tables and text are from the year 2016 unless otherwise indicated.
Percent nonwhite calculations. The proportion of students enrolled in a district that are nonwhite was calculated by dividing the number of nonwhite students by the total enrollment within a given school district.
Median owner-occupied property values. The median values of owner-occupied housing units in school districts that are displayed in the website map and in the report’s tables and text are from the 2012-2016, 5-year American Community Survey (ACS).
State and local revenue calculations. Per-pupil state and local revenues were calculated by dividing state and local revenues (adjusted to exclude the monies described below) by fall enrollment counts as reported in the F33 survey. Per-pupil state and local revenues for school districts displayed in the map on the website and in the report’s tables and text are from the 2015-16 school year.
Prior to computing per-pupil revenue amounts, the following subtractions were made from total state and local revenues for each school district:
1. Because it can contribute to large fluctuations in district revenues from year to year, we exclude revenue for capital from the calculation of state revenues.
2. Similarly, we exclude money generated from the sale of property from local revenues, because it too can contribute to large fluctuations in revenues.
3. In a number of districts (just under 2,000 in the 2014-15 school year, for example), revenues received by local school districts include monies that are passed through to charter schools that are not a part of the local school district but are instead operated by charter local education agencies (charter LEAs). This artificially inflates the revenues in these local school districts because they include money for students educated outside of the district who are not counted in enrollment totals. To address this, we have subtracted from state and local revenues a proportional share (based on the percent of each districts’ revenues that come from local, state and federal sources) of the total amount of money sent to outside charter LEAs—an expenditure category included in the F33 survey.
DATA AND METHODOLOGY FOR CONSOLIDATION STATUTE CLASSIFICATION
• Lexis Advance: Using LexisNexis as a research tool, we reviewed state statutes relevant to school district consolidation, including: minimum requirements for existing and new districts, the types of school districts used by each state, the creation of new districts from part of an existing district, division of an existing district into multiple new districts, and reorganization of existing school districts. We also used LexisNexis to review legislative history and recent changes to relevant state statutes.
• Published guidance from state agencies: When available, we reviewed published guidance from state departments of education, state boards of education, and offices of state attorney generals on organization of school districts and changes to school district boundaries.
• Communication with state officials: Communication with state officials provided direction on relevant statutes, confirmation of applicability of certain statutes, and confirmation of analysis accuracy.
Research. For each state, we reviewed state statutes relevant to the organization of school districts using Lexis Advance as a research tool. For states where it was available, we also reviewed published guidance from state agencies on the organization of school district boundaries and news coverage of previous and ongoing school district consolidations for a general description of the consolidation process.
When reviewing state statutes, we recorded information about:
• Whether there were provisions in the state constitution regarding school district organization
• Whether there was a process for the voluntary consolidation or annexation of two or more school districts, and if so,
• Whether the process requires the approval of each of the school boards involved
• Whether the process requires the approval of a majority of voters
• Whether the process requires the approval of a majority of voters in each district involved
• Whether the state provided any financial incentives for school district consolidation or annexation, or any mechanism through which districts could obtain such financial incentives• Whether there was a process for a state entity to initiate or compel school district consolidation or annexation
• If so, what are the conditions under which the state would be able to mandate consolidation or annexation
• Whether the state has mandated school district consolidation through special legislation since 2000
Where there were aspects of a conoslodation process that were unclear pertaining to any of the above details, we contacted state officials (see Fact-checking below) to clarify the process.
Fact-checking. At the beginning of the research process, a list of potential contacts was compiled, primarily from state boards of education, state departments of education, and state legislative analysis services.
After the research process was completed, summaries of the process for school district consolidation were sent to state officials for fact-checking. If necessary, we followed-up to ensure that our understanding of state statutes was accurate and when applicable, incorporated their comments into the summaries.
Classification. States were classified as:
• Having a mandatory consolidation policy if state law authorized a state entity to compel school district annexation or consolidation without the approval of local school districts in at least some cases. States where mandatory annexation or consolidation was only authorized when districts were no longer able to operate as a district because of lack of students, schools, board members, etc, or because they have not operated schools in a given timeframe not classified as having a mandatory consolidation policy.
• Providing financial incentives if state law provides financial aid such that it alleviates a potential disincentive to participate in consolidation or annexation.
• Having a voluntary consolidation policy if state law provides a process for school district consolidation or annexation that is effected by local school board(s), voters, or other representatives of affected local school district(s).
• Exclusively having a voluntary consolidation policy if the state has a voluntary consolidation policy but not a mandatory consolidation policy.