House Bill 184

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Before the Texas legislature even begins its 2005 session, school finance has already become one of the toughest issues facing the state body. But one local representative believes he's found a solution to the state-wide budget crunch. A proposed bill could change the shape of Texas school districts.

Like all Texas legislators, school funding is first and foremost on the mind of State Representative Fred Brown. But Brown believes consolidating small school districts is a possible solution.

Brown recently filed House Bill 184, which takes school districts with fewer than 2,000 students and consolidates them into one, county-wide district. He says it might not be popular, but it's the right thing to do.

“We don't have to change anything as far as the schools themselves are concerned. As far as daily activities for the students, they'll go to the same buildings, and they'll have the same teachers," said Brown.

Brown's bill would only consolidate and restructure administrative systems, like superintendents, food services, and support staff. He believes a reduction in redundant administrative costs would save money. But Somerville Superintendent Jerry Johnson disagrees.

“At this point, from what we know, we would be against it. We are trying a lot of things for our local students and our local patrons and we want to make sure that we wouldn't loose that," said Johnson.

Under Brown's bill, Somerville, Snook, and Caldwell's school districts would be lumped into one Burleson County school district. Johnson says there are too many important unanswered questions.

“Another big thing is the school board. Who's going to represent who and how's that going to be chosen?" asked Johnson.

Brown bill addresses that issue.

"You could have a representative from each of those previous ISD's in that one administration as far as the school board is concerned. So everybody would have equal representation," said Brown.

Another concern of Johnson's is the number of people who would loose their jobs. He thinks it's important for smaller schools to remain family oriented and close-knit; something that mergers might eliminate.

But proponents argue that it would free up more tax dollars for their intended purpose-educating students.

“We should be putting more of the money that's spent on administration back into the classroom," said Brown.

Representative Brown admits he's a bit surprised by the large number of positive comments he's received from supporters. But he knows his toughest challenges lie ahead when he must face critics and opponents of his bill.

A hearing for the bill is expected to happen in February and if it passes, the consolidation process would take place over a five-year period, with a completion goal of 2010.