The conventional wisdom in Kansas has been that school district consolidation doesn't save much money: Districts get so spread out that transportation costs eat up any savings.
But in these desperate budget times, auditors have suggested two scenarios that save a bit. One would decrease funding for 25 school districts with fewer than 400 students and smaller than 200 square miles. That plan would save an estimated $18 million, about 5 percent of the expected budget shortfall for 2011. Education officials say it's tantamount to closing schools, and they're not sure it reflects all the additional travel costs, ad losses of property value.
The other plan would consolidate districts with fewer than 1,600 students and could save $138 million, about a third of the budget shortfall.
But legislators should be careful. In at least one section of western Kansas, getting up to 1,600 students would mean creating a school district the size of a combined Rhode Island and Delaware.
The lesson: Stop toying about at the edges, legislators, and get to work repealing sales tax exemptions.