Consolidation rules readied for review

(March 2, 2004) — (Little Rock-AP) -- Revised rules governing how small school districts are administratively consolidated will be presented to a legislative committee this week. The changes are an attempt to narrow the amount of authority the state has to deny voluntary merger requests. A law passed in the special session on education reform requires all districts with less than 350 students to administratively consolidate by April first or have their partners chosen by the state. Interim state Education Director Tom Courtway rewrote part of the proposed rules after legislators expressed concern last week that the new law left the state Board of Education with too much leeway to ignore voluntary consolidation petitions and partner districts as it sees fit. The rules have not been approved by the Legislative Council's Administrative Rules and Regulations Committee. Courtway rewrote a portion of the proposed rules that authorized the state board to deny a voluntary consolidation if it determined that the merger "would not contribute to the betterment of the education of students in the districts."