Smaller, financially strapped school districts that can offer greater educational opportunities together are the best candidates for mergers, according to a new research report by the New York State School Boards Association (NYSSBA).

The report found that losses in state aid and the local property tax cap have forced some districts to eliminate teaching and support staff positions, affecting their ability to provide elective courses and, in some cases, core courses as well. By merging, these districts might be better able to offer a wider variety of educational programs and courses than they would otherwise.

“While we often hear policymakers talk about cost savings as the main impetus for school district mergers, school board members must first and foremost consider the academic implications of a proposed merger,” NYSSBA Executive Director Timothy Kremer said.

NYSSBA’s new report, “To Merge or Not to Merge,” explores the pros and cons of school district mergers and identifies key factors in determining whether a community will support a merger.

Aside from increased educational opportunities for students, school districts might consider a merger to realize cost savings due to economies of scale, provide greater access to extracurricular activities or receive additional state aid.

Yet mergers can also present drawbacks, the report says, such as loss of community identity and longer bus rides.

The report also found that creating a successful school merger depends on several important factors, including:

• Whether districts will benefit more or less equally from the merger, both financially and academically.
• Building trust and credibility with voters.
• Obtaining buy-in from school staff and students.

“School leaders are being forced to look at alternative ways to provide student services with fewer resources,” Kremer said. “Decisions about mergers and consolidations should be made locally. It is the students, parents, taxpayers and employees in the school district who are most affected.”

The New York Association for Pupil Transportation posted a link to the report on its website and recommended that its members “review it and discuss it in the context of their own operations and their school district’s needs.”

The report is available here.