School Regionalization Results Mixed, Study Review Says

May 20, 2018

As Connecticut schools deal with shrinking enrollment in most towns and rising enrollment in some cities, the question being asked is this -- should schools be consolidated? 

"Whenever you say [regionalization], people think, 'Oh, we're gonna be forced to work together in ways that we're not accustomed to,” said Steven Fernandez, executive director of the Connecticut Commission on Women, Children and Seniors, speaking at an event at UConn Law School in April.

He said the only way to achieve equity for all students is for school districts to start working together. But making that happen is another story. The Land of Steady Habits has a way of making change, well, difficult.

Even if towns decided to start working together, how would that work? That’s a question the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving wanted to know, and recently reviewed a variety of regionalization studies. What did they find?

"It's a complex issue, there's not a one-size-fits-all answer. There's no sort of silver bullet for it,” said Scott Gaul, director of research and evaluation at the Hartford Foundation.

"There's pretty solid evidence that the highest cost districts tend to be either very small or very large," Gaul said. "There is something that's suggestive that those districts that are medium sized do some things better than either a large bureaucracy or a very small district that has high fixed costs."

The foundation reviewed regionalization programs in Vermont, Maine, and New York.

"It's really a mixed track record there,” Gaul said. “There's some cases where they've achieved some cost savings, but really those states have gone into it with the mind that it would achieve sort of high levels of consolidations and substantial cost savings. And it doesn't appear that that's materialized."

Gaul said it's important to not just think about saving money, but also, about how it impacts students. Opportunities for learning vary significantly among districts, and merging schools has been seen as one way to level the playing field.