An Economical, Thorough & Efficient School System & the West Virginia School Building Authority “Economy of Scale” Numbers.

Purdy, Deirdre H.

The West Virginia School Building Authority (SBA) was created by the state legislature in 1989 to carry out a mandate of the “Recht Decision,” which found the state’s school financing system to be largely unconstitutional. The SBA was created to sell bonds for educational facility financing and distribute the money to county school boards based on school construction and maintenance needs. Thus, school facility needs were to get equal attention in poor and rich counties. The statute empowering the SBA set out seven goals to be used in judging county facility plans for funding, but the SBA consistently emphasized economies of scale over the other goals. This was accomplished by arbitrarily interpreting economies of scale as required school sizes, and by weighting the economy of scale factor when evaluating projects. Compared to existing school sizes in West Virginia, the required sizes were very large and resulted in widespread school closings, primarily in rural areas. This report concludes that the so-called “economy of scale” numbers are actually arbitrary and uneconomical requirements for large-sized schools, requirements neither mandated nor supported by law, and that West Virginia should scrap them. To reach this conclusion, the report examines research on true economies and diseconomies of scale and reviews the detrimental effects of large schools on poor children, of long travel times on student achievement and quality of life, and of consolidation on poor rural communities. It considers the constitutional mandate that West Virginia’s school system be thorough and efficient and finds that SBA large-school requirements, disguised as economies of scale, purport with neither directive. Contains references in notes and a table of county school data. (SV)