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Consolidation Pros and Cons

February 21, 2011

WHEELING - West Virginia educators believe the consolidation of schools decades ago to form countywide districts proved to be a positive move that has afforded thousands of students more educational choices over the years.

In Ohio, however, many school officials doubt consolidation is on the horizon, though a few believe some services and positions could be shared for better efficiency.

The 1976 merging of Wheeling, Triadelphia and Warwood high schools, as well as the former McKinley Vocational School, led to creation of a broader curriculum at Wheeling Park High School. Ohio County Schools Superintendent George Krelis said that consolidation led to increased opportunities for the students of Ohio County. He said it simply allowed students more educational choices - and the options continue to expand to this day.

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"A student can take auto body in third period and then take an advanced placement science class in fourth period," Krelis said. "In one location, we can meet any need a student may have. The curricular advantages that resulted from the consolidation were enough to make it a wise decision."

The 1969 consolidation of Moundsville, Union and Sherrard high schools in Marshall County led to a larger curriculum at John Marshall High School.

"Actually, I think today it is more of a necessity than when we originally did it ... ," said Fred Renzella, Marshall County Schools superintendent. "The curriculum offerings are immensely expanded and therefore they are offering more chances and more opportunities for all the kids to find something of interest," Renzella added.

Fact Box

How well has school consolidation worked in West Virginia? Would it work in Ohio, where a county such as Belmont has seven separate public school districts?

Consolidation has worked well in West Virginia, with schools such as Wheeling Park High School and John Marshall High School serving as examples. Public education officials in Ohio refuse to believe that consolidation could work there, even though Belmont County has seven school districts.

Across the Ohio River in Belmont County, some districts were formed from consolidation in the 1950s and 1960s. The Union Local School District, with a consolidated campus near Morristown, shows its roots through its very name - based on its location in Belmont County's Union Township. To form Union Local, which graduated its first class in 1960, students who previously attended high schools in Belmont, Bethesda, Morristown and Centerville were consolidated. It took about three years for residents of Flushing to join the others as part of the district.

New school buildings were built for Union Local a little more than a decade ago; since then, new facilities also have popped up in the Barnesville Exempted Village, Bellaire Local, Martins Ferry City and Bridgeport Exempted Village districts in Belmont County. In neighboring Monroe County, new school construction is now under way in the Switzerland of Ohio Local School District.

In addition to the existence of new facilities, Union Local Superintendent Kirk Glasgow believes transportation of students and the initial cost of consolidation are obstacles to countywide school systems in Ohio that could be nearly impossible to overcome.

"The geography (of Belmont County) is too big for one site," he said. "We have varying topography, and I think that would be a nightmare."

But Larry Elliott, superintendent for Switzerland of Ohio, believes consolidation of the central office staff in his district has resulted in cost savings and better efficiency.

"It really works well for us," Elliott said, noting his district encompasses not only all of Monroe County, but parts of Belmont and Noble counties as well.

He said transportation, food service, maintenance, administration of the Title I and gifted services as well as financial matters all are handled through the district's central office in Woodsfield, and he stressed that the staff there is not large. The central office serves three high schools, a career center and six elementary schools.

Switzerland Administrative Assistant George Richardson, formerly superintendent of Bellaire Local Schools, agreed that consolidation of some service works well for Switzerland; however, he speculated that such a move in a county like Belmont - where there are seven separate public school districts, a joint vocational district and portions of other districts - might not be as effective. He said things could "balance out" if a single superintendent would oversee all schools in Belmont County but needed several assistants to work with them.

But without a favorable vote of the people, consolidation is not likely to occur in Ohio.

Scott Blake, press secretary for the Ohio Department of Education, said school districts are set up as "local control entities." He said consolidation is always an option, but it is "not something that can be forced." Procedures for consolidation outlined by the state provide that at least one district involved must make a move to begin the lengthy process. The voters of all districts involved then would have to vote in favor of consolidation.

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