At the end of the last Legislative session lawmakers extended the deadlines for Act 46, the state's school district consolidation law. As the new Nov. 30 deadline approaches, districts are now finishing up their work and preparing for a new round of votes on the merger plans.
The Senate and House education committees got a lot of input on how the law could be improved and they tweaked Act 46 a little by extending the deadline and coming up with some new consolidation structures.
Agency of Education consultant Donna Russo-Savage says when the State Board of Education meets this week it will have six new merger proposals from districts that took advantage of the new deadlines and rules.
"We could see that there were some regions of the state that were working very hard to figure out a way to go forward and meet the goals of Act 46, and they just needed a little bit more time," Russo-Savage says. "It seemed like a very reasonable thing to give them that time if that was all they needed."
Districts originally had until July 1 before lawmakers pushed back the deadline to Nov. 30.
Russo-Savage says that while the extra time allowed some districts to get their proposals together, there are still parts of the state where it will be tough to put a consolidation plan together.
Across the state there are still districts that are having a hard time finding neighboring districts to work with.
Russo-Savage says the school district consolidation law forced some hard discussions around the state, and there are regions where it took some extra time and creativity to get their plans in place.
She says after the Nov. 30 deadline a whole new conversation will start with the districts that have not been able to put a merger proposal together.
"When you step back and look at the entire map of the state, most of those places where a governance merger could bring about positive results have gone forward," Russo-Savage says. "It's impossible to predict what the state board is going to do with the districts that have not merged, in generally the more rural areas of the state."
If districts don't want to propose a merger, they have until early next year to convince the state board that they can remain independent and provide an equitable education, while not hurting taxpayers.
The Secretary of Education will come up with a statewide plan, including possibly forcing some mergers among outlying districts, in early June.
The State Board of Education will be asked to approve the final plan before November 2018.
Correction 2:13 p.m. 09/19/2017 The State Board of Education will approve the final statewide merger plan. The wrong information appeared in the original story.