In 1957, the number of school districts in Pennsylvania was dramatically reduced from 2,700 to the current 501. Earlier this year Gov. Ed Rendell proposed another extraordinary consolidation -- to just 100 districts. Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato followed by suggesting that the 130 municipalities in Allegheny County be folded into the 43 school districts.
A statewide effort to reduce the number of school districts, combined with a countywide consolidation of municipalities, presents a golden opportunity: We can do both at once.
The promise of such a far-reaching effort is to create more cost-effective, economically competitive and efficient governmental bodies. As a jump-off to this discussion, I offer the following plan to reduce the number of school districts and municipalities in Allegheny County to 26.
The first criterion is to achieve the goals while disrupting existing school districts and municipalities as little as possible.
As with all municipalities, any consolidation must create geographically contiguous bodies. Because current school districts encompass entire municipalities, leaving districts intact will also leave each current municipality within one new municipal body.
Second, while it is not required that all districts have near equal population, consolidation offers the best opportunity to do so. Such an effort should be made on the grounds of cost-effectiveness. A report issued by the Pennsylvania Budget and Finance Committee on the cost-effectiveness of consolidating Pennsylvania school districts found districts with 2,500 to 3,000 students to be the most cost-effective, spending an average of $8,057 per student annually. Cost per student rose as enrollment both increased or decreased from these parameters. Thus, as much as is practical, consolidation should have these numbers in mind.
There are two immediate exceptions. The first is the Pittsburgh Public Schools. With 26,649 students, enrollment is far beyond our parameters. Under the criteria of not dividing existing school districts or municipalities, this district must be left intact. Also, 13 more school districts don't change at all -- Fox Chapel Area and McKeesport, for example.
The second involves the boroughs of McDonald and Trafford. Each is situated on the borders of other counties, Washington and Westmoreland, respectively. They extend into and are part of school districts in these counties. Thus, while they will remain outside of Allegheny County school districts, for governmental purposes they will be included in new districts being consolidated around neighboring municipalities.
The stipulation that existing school districts and municipalities not be divided and the goal of 2,500 to 3,000 students per district dictates that existing school districts with more than 2,500 students be left intact as much as possible. Currently, 23 districts have such enrollments. Again, under this plan, 13 of these plus the city will remain in their present form. Three of these districts contain one municipality. This will also serve to reduce disruption to existing school districts and municipalities.
Geographic necessity and the criterion of balanced enrollment dictate that the remaining 10 districts with over 2,500 students be consolidated with at least one of the other 19 districts, all of which, with one exception, enroll less than 2,500 students. This will create 12 districts. Of these, eight are composed of two current districts, three others encompass three existing districts and the last contains four current districts. (This is the exception referred to above.)
With a proposed enrollment of nearly 13,000 students, this district would dwarf all other proposed districts, with the exception of Pittsburgh. However, consolidation in this form is necessitated by a series of geographic factors. With 1,289 students and adjacent to Baldwin Township and Whitehall, both affiliated with the Baldwin-Whitehall School District, the Brentwood Borough School District is a candidate for consolidation.
However, Baldwin Borough, also a part of Baldwin-Whitehall, is physically separated from Baldwin Township and Whitehall, by Castle Shannon, a part of the Keystone Oaks School District, which, with 2,231 students, is also ripe for consolidation, making it necessary to include that district in any consolidation.
In turn, Dormont and Green Tree, the other two municipalities in Keystone Oaks, are both physically separated from Castle Shannon by the Mt. Lebanon School District. Thus, it also becomes necessary to include that district in the consolidation.
A final note should be made of the proposed district that includes Carlynton, Montour and Sto-Rox school districts. With 1,455 and 1,417 students respectively, both Carlynton and Sto-Rox are candidates for consolidation. Both of these districts are adjacent to Montour, with 3,026 students. However, Ingram, a part of Montour, is physically separated from the rest of the district by Crafton, a part of Carlynton. Therefore, a consolidated district must include all three districts.
Not partitioning existing school districts and municipalities, along with specific geographical considerations, has conspired to largely prevent the creation of districts with enrollments of 2,500 to 3,000 students. Nonetheless, this plan does consolidate a significant number of school districts and municipalities, moving toward the overall goal of creating more cost-effective, economically competitive and efficient government bodies.
While this plan may not be the end result -- and such an endeavor would certainly be politically explosive and might be unsuccessful in any event -- it is, perhaps, a beginning. Let the discussion finally begin.
Here is David Wassel's list of 26 school districts and the existing municipalities that would form them. The first 14 districts are the ones that would remain the same -- though the municipalities within them would be merged into one new local government. (With the exception of Bethel Park, Hampton and Upper St. Clair, which would remain as they are.)
City of Pittsburgh: Mt. Oliver, Pittsburgh
Bethel Park: Bethel Park,
Chartiers Valley: Bridgeville, Collier, Heidelberg, Scott
Fox Chapel Area: Aspinwall, Blawnox, Fox Chapel, Indiana, O'Hara, Sharpsburg
Highlands: Brackenridge, Fawn, Harrison, Tarentum
McKeesport Area: Dravosburg, McKeesport, South Versailles, Versailles, White Oak
Moon Area: Crescent, Moon,
North Allegheny: Bradford Woods, Franklin Park, Marshall, McCandless
North Hills: Ross, West View
Pine-Richland:, Pine, Richland
Shaler Area: Etna, Millvale, Reserve, Shaler
Upper St. Clair: Upper St. Clair
Woodland Hills: Braddock , Braddock Hills Chalfant, Churchill, East Pittsburgh, Edgewood, Forest Hills, North Braddock, Rankin, Swissvale, Turtle Creek, Wilkins
Allegheny Valley/Deer Lakes: Cheswick, East Deer, Frazer, Harmar, Springdale Borough, Springdale Township, West Deer
Avonworth/Northgate: Avalon, Bellevue, Ben Avon, Ben Avon Heights, Emsworth, Kilbuck, Ohio
Cornell/Quaker Valley: Aleppo, Bell Acres, Coraopolis, Edgeworth, Glenfield, Haysville, Leet, Leetsdale, Neville, Osborne, Sewickley, Sewickley Heights, Sewickley Hills
Carlynton/ Montour/Sto-Rox: Carnegie, Crafton, Ingram, Kennedy, McKees Rocks, Montour, Pennsbury Village, Robinson, Rosslyn Farms, Thornburg, Stowe
Penn Hills/ Wilkinsburg: Penn Hills, Wilkinsburg
Plum/Riverview: Plum, Oakmont, Verona
Baldwin-Whitehall/Brentwood/Keystone Oaks/Mt. Lebanon: Baldwin Borough, Baldwin Township, Brentwood, Castle Shannon, Dormont, Green Tree, Mt. Lebanon
Whitehall, McDonald/ South Fayette/West Allegheny: Fort Cherry, Findlay, North Fayette, Oakdale, South Fayette
East Allegheny/Gateway/Trafford: East McKeesport, Monroeville, North Versailles, Penn Trafford, Pitcarin, Trafford, Wall, Wilmerding
Elizabeth Forward/South Allegheny: Elizabeth Borough, Elizabeth Township, Forward, Glassport, Liberty, Lincoln, Port Vue
Duquesne/Steel Valley/West Mifflin Area: Duquesne City, Homestead, Munhall, West Homestead, West Mifflin, Whitaker
Clairton City/South Park/West Jefferson Hills: Clairton, Jefferson Hills, Pleasant Hills, South Park, West Elizabeth
David Wassel, a lawyer and political consultant, has worked in campaigns for Democratic candidates since the early 1990s ( firstname.lastname@example.org ) . He lives in White Oak.