Too many schools?

JONESBORO, AR (KAIT)-  Consolidation.

It's a buzzword in Arkansas education.

The state fights for it and small schools fight to save themselves from it.

Meanwhile, supporters say it's a fight to save money.

But does consolidation really save any money?  And would it work in Craighead County?

Those are questions we posed to area educators including Dr. Radius Baker, superintendent of Valley View Schools.

"Craighead County is unique, Simply because you have 8 school districts, and 6 of those 8 are in the city limits of Jonesboro," he says.  "Actually some of the property is in the city limits of Jonesboro."

Dr. Baker says the idea of consolidation someday to a county-wide school system in Craighead County is intriguing.

According to the Arkansas Department of Education, during the 2012-12 school year, more than 16,600 students were enrolled in K-12 in those 8 districts.

That's 8 superintendents.

And 8 superintendent salaries.

Comparing strictly enrollment, the Pulaski County Special School District in Little Rock is similar with just short of 17,000 students and just one superintendent, Dr. Jerry Guess.

"You are going to add specialized positions to take care of those services that are required in that bigger district," says Dr. Guess.

Consolidation is nothing new to Dr. Guess.  He's been through a consolidation before in his career, even shuttering the school he attended.

He says if a school is meeting the financial and educational needs of the community then, "I think that district is doing a good job and would be hard to justify merging that district with others."

But what about those big superintendent salaries?

The 8 superintendents in Craighead County make more than a million dollars a year combined.

Those schools, however, have combined total budgets of over 150 million dollars.

Which means that even if you got rid of the superintendents and didn't replace them at all, the schools in Craighead county would only save .6%.

"i understand where that comes from when you see that salary, but that's only one person," says Chip Layne, superintendent at Bay.

He says administrative consolidation actually adds staff.

"They need them now in the current format," Layne said. "It's kind of silly to think you wouldn't need them if you went together."

A 1999 study of consolidation by the Arkansas Association of Educational Administrators backs the claims of all three men.

Following 30 years of Arkansas consolidations, only 15 districts of 113 actually saved money the following year.

Dr. Baker says he knows people will say the administrators just want to save their jobs.

"I've announced my retirement. I'm not here to keep my job," he says. "I am here to make education as good as it can be in Craighead County. And i think we've shown as Craighead County schools that we are doing the best that we can. Can we do better, of course we can."

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