One of Governor Andrew Cuomo's contentious budget cutting ideas is to consolidate very small school districts. I'm generally a tax-and-spend liberal, but this is a good idea, especially in relatively densely-populated parts of the state. I was reminded why today by the New York Times, which reported on a controversy engulfing the tiny Westchester village of Katonah, NY, not far from where I grew up. Katonah's school board would like to hire a superintendent named Paul Kreutzer, who happens to be the only superintendent in Wisconsin to have publicly supported Gov. Scott Walker's attempt to ban teacher collective bargaining.
Unsurprisingly, hundreds of Katonah teachers, parents, and students are loudly protesting Kreutzer's appointment.
But what really caught my eye was that if he does get the job, the 39-year old Kreutzer is set to earn $245,000 annually to oversee a district of just six schools and 3,800 students. Ninety-three percent of these kids are white, and just 1 percent are non-native English speakers. Approximately 0 percent of Katonah public school children participate in the federal free-and-reduced-price lunch program.
The nearby Bedford Central School District, which encompasses the more diverse town of Mt. Kisco, has seven schools and just under 5,000 students. There, 20 percent of students are Hispanic, 5 percent are black, and 5 percent are Asian. Fourteen percent qualify for free or reduced-price lunch, and 7 percent are currently learning English. The superintendent in Bedford earns a lot of money, too, though less than the one in Katonah--about $225,000 plus benefits, according to the most recent data I could find. But he also has a somewhat more difficult job, serving a larger and more diverse population.
It would be good public policy to consolidate these two school districts, which are geographically contiguous with one another. Not only would it save money on administrative costs, but it would allow more children to enjoy the benefits of attending racially and socioeconomically integrated schools.
Currently, New York State has some of the most regressive school districting in the country. Due to a system that has changed very little since the early 19th century, there are 697 school districts in New York.
In Florida, the state closest to New York in terms of population, there are just 74 school districts.
Politically, consolidating school districts is very controversial, even though larger school systems are often able to offer more course options and other perks. In large part, this is because consolidation is a full frontal attack on white privilege and class privilege. Currently, the ability to pay Katonah property prices and taxes earns a family the right to prevent their children from attending school with the children of Mt. Kisco's Guatemalan day-laborers. Some people move to Katonah instead of to Mt. Kisco for exactly that reason.
To be sure, neighborhood school zoning can lead to de facto segregated schools even within districts that encompass entire counties. But there are many good examples of progressive large school distrcits. Montogomery County, MD has made great strides in educating both affluent and low-income children in part because of the community's and administration's conviction that this should be a shared responsibility.
New York can do way better.