Iowa Ideas 2019
October 3 - 4 | Cedar Rapids

Iowa Ideas is a nonpartisan, statewide learning experience designed to explore the key questions and big ideas that will shape the future of Iowa.

Created by The Gazette, Iowa Ideas consists of in-depth, solutions-focused journalism and events. Engaged citizens, community advocates and industry leaders are invited to join us.

Stay Up-To-Date

Recieve periodic e-newsletters on the Iowa Ideas conference, track articles, magazine stories, and how to get involved.

Your Email *
Terms: I am over 13 years old and agree to the Terms of Service and Privacy Policy

Thank you for signing up for the Iowa Ideas newsletter.

How we got here: School consolidation leads to 11 percent drop in number of districts

District mergers are political and emotional affairs

    Stony Point School closed in 1959 due to consolidation. The one-room building still stands between Cedar Rapids and Covington. Photographed on Sunday, March 4, 2018. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
    Education
    Apr 30, 2018 at 5:00 am

    The number of Iowa’s public-school buildings and districts has been declining steadily for decades.

    The number of school districts has dropped nearly 11 percent since the 2000-01 school year, hitting 333 districts during the 2016-17 school year. Meanwhile, the state has 202 fewer school buildings, according to Iowa Department of Education data.

    John McGlothlen / The Gazette

    Population loss and reduced enrollments in rural areas, tight budgets, difficulty finding teachers and the need to meet government mandates are all among the factors playing into consolidation, said Tim Gilson, an associate professor of educational leadership at the University of Northern Iowa.

    School mergers can be a benefit if districts offer additional programming — and the state offers districts incentives if they share resources.

    Even so, decisions around which buildings to close can be heart-wrenching and potentially economically damaging for local communities.

    “It really just comes down to that emotional and political issue because you lose a school, you’re going to lose your identity. We’ve seen towns become ghost towns because they’ve lost that,” Gilson said, though his research has not shown that students suffer academically from consolidation.

    Gilson does not expect Iowa’s school consolidation trend to reverse itself, especially when it comes to building closures.

    “Where you have made cuts based on a financial need and economy of scale, unless you’re in an urban or metro area, I don’t see that changing,” he said.

    Some districts, particularly those that have already merged, may not be able to combine any further, though. State law currently restricts one-way bus travel for students to one hour.

    “It has to reach a point, at least in some areas, where you really can’t consolidate anymore because ... you can’t get so large that it impacts the amount of time elementary and secondary students are on a bus,” he said.

    Gilson said Iowa schools facing consolidation would benefit from continued state support, such as the incentives currently offered for sharing resources. Iowa could also look at ways to reduce transportation costs for districts, he said.

    “There has to be some looking at helping districts defray transportation costs because on paper that’s one of the biggest immediate expenses and inefficiencies and negatives to consolidation,” Gilson said.

    — In each edition of Iowa Ideas magazine, “How We Got Here” will look at an important trend in the state, how it happened and why it matters.

    l Comments: (319) 398-8366; matthew.patane@thegazette.com

    Most Recent Iowa Ideas Stories

    Iowa medical students placed all over country in 2019 Match Day

    IOWA CITY - The Ides of March has nothing on Match Day. ... READ MORE

    School resource officers try to educate and prevent social media fallout before it results in arrests

    CEDAR RAPIDS - Two Cedar Rapids school resource officers said about 85 percent of the problems they deal with revolve around social media, and a 'good... READ MORE

    Housing program keeps Cedar Rapids strong

    Neighborhood Finance Corporation is a public-private partnership between the city of Cedar Rapids, local lenders, neighborhood residents and the busin... READ MORE

    Stay Up-To-Date

    Sign up for any combination of updates below.

    Get general updates on the Iowa Ideas project and track-specific newsletters and opportunities to connect.

    Your Email *
    General Updates
    Agriculture
    Education
    Energy & Environment
    Workforce
    Health Care
    Human & Social Services
    Policy
    Regional Development
    Terms: I am over 13 years old and agree to the Terms of Service and Privacy Policy