Smaller Schools Research

The Big Picture on School Costs

(formerly entitled:For Further Discussion On School Size)
by Representative David Cox

The discussion about school size, both with school boards and in the general public, will not be complete without considering the ancillary costs of big schools. These are harder to quantify than the capital and staffing costs of additional smaller schools. If these costs and liabilities are not considered, a shallow look could conclude that schools should be built bigger yet.

Direct costs to Districts

  • Smaller schools that are closer to the neighborhood have less ongoing transportation costs. These costs can be significant in big schools that collect students from all over a metropolitan area and they continue year after year. Buses also begin to rule the schedule when significant numbers of students are being bused throughout the city rather than just collecting rural students.
  • Schools with large populations in portable units have much higher heating and cooling costs.
  • Smaller schools have not needed policemen, surveillance systems, etc. and appear to be much safer.
  • While smaller schools will each need a principal, secretary, etc., bigger schools need more assistant principals and other staff. Those staffing needs should be considered as well in comparisons.

Costs to the community for which the School District is not liable

  • Since most patrons choose to drive to school, large schools have significantly larger traffic impacts near these schools. Large schools concentrate traffic. Smaller schools throughout the community tend to have more students walking and spread out the traffic.
  • Smaller schools throughout the community create open space and recreation areas for citizens so that the city does not need to tax for those separately. They provide meeting places for local needs. They create community amidst sprawl.
  • Large schools have more truancy, drug abuse, and gang problems. These societal problems then impact the community.
  • There is also a greater need for the city to provide more recreation programs since only the top students of large schools are able to participate in school programs.