By Greg Davis, President, Davis Demographics and Planning, Inc. and Tom Cavanagh, Senior Vice President, School Advisors

The California economy has changed. Today 93 percent of Californians consider the state to be in bad economic times and only 29 percent expect California’s economy to improve in 2011.

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School districts are struggling with tight budgets requiring—among many options—the exploration of cost-saving measures that include evaluating the most efficient utilization of their facilities. In years past, declining enrollment was the overriding issue in school closure discussions. But in the current economic environment, districts are forced to make hard decisions about efficient classroom and facility utilization, even among schools with stable enrollment. School consolidation has made the short list for many school district budget reduction recommendations.

Advantages of school consolidation include cost savings in areas such as administrative staff and utilities. Utilizing scarce resources more efficiently also allows money to be reallocated to improve and expand successful programs at remaining sites. Proper asset management is also a prime way to generate lease revenue from closed sites through highest and best use.

Of course, with the advantages of school consolidation come a set of commensurate disadvantages. School consolidations can create difficulties in district neighborhoods where schools are closed in order to accomplish the consolidation. Public unrest or uncertainty can lead parents to transfer students to neighboring districts or enroll their students in private schools. The consequent loss of students may offset any financial savings gained by consolidation. Savings may be offset also by increased costs of transporting students to other schools, whereas they may have walked to their neighborhood school previously. Given these potential concerns, effective planning must consider existing transfer and transportation policies.

The process of school consolidation typically involves six or more months of highly visible, sometimes negative discussions involving the entire school community. Each of the components of the community including parents, members of the public, teaching and support staff, administration, and the Governing Board should be enlisted in a comprehensive dialogue regarding the issues in order for the process to be successful.

Making sure that you have carefully analyzed the use of school sites as well as the cost savings and potential revenue generation will allow a more focused discussion to determine whether school consolidation is in the best interests of the district and community.

For more information contact Greg Davis or Tom Cavanagh

Read more articles from the Fall/Winter 2010 edition of School News