How much does it cost to run a small school district?

There are no stop signs in Washington, California. There is no gas station, no ATM and no cell phone service. However, there is a one-room school house (May 1, 2017).

How small is too small? It’s a question often asked when talking about school and school district size. And the answer isn’t simple.

In 2011, the state’s Legislative Analyst’s Office looked into the idea of consolidating smaller school districts in hopes that it would be cheaper to do so. However, the LAO found that wouldn’t be the case.

The non-partisan legislative office’s study concluded that, not only do smaller districts have “substantial funding advantages” but they also might have an academic advantage, too.

“While our review of California student performance data and the relevant academic literature indicates some correlation between district size and student outcomes,” a LAO report stated, “the evidence does not show especially strong support for the assumption that small districts inherently are worse for students.”

The study went further to explain that mid-size districts — 2,000 to 10,000 students — often perform better than their larger counterparts.

To put it simply: smaller districts are actually good for student performance, the study showed.

However, while it’s good for students academically, cost is often a different story.

The LEO found that small districts receive “substantially more” funding per student. On average, districts with fewer than 100 students receive more than $18,000 per enrolled student — more than twice as much as districts that have at least 1,000 students.

Nearly three-quarters of California school districts are considered “small,” or have at most 1,000 students.

ABC10’s John Bartell visited one of those smaller schools, Washington Elementary in Nevada County, and found there were many reasons to leave the school open. The main reason, however, was distance to the nearest school.

Because most of the smaller schools and districts are in small, rural areas of the state, only a few schools are nearby. In Washington, the nearest elementary school, Grizzly Hill, is about an hour away, despite the two being in the same Twin Ridges School District.

“It would probably kill the town if this school closed,” one Washington resident told ABC10.

Below is a list of both the smallest and largest school districts by enrollment, according the state Department of Education.

Top 10 largest California school districts, 2015-2016 school year
1. Los Angeles Unified: 639,337
2. San Diego Unified: 129,380
3. Long Beach Unified: 77,812
4. Fresno Unified: 73,460
5. Elk Grove Unified: 62,767
6. San Francisco Unified: 58,865
7. Santa Ana Unified: 55,909
8. Capistrano Unified: 53,878
9. Corona-Norco Unified: 53,354
10. San Bernardino City Unified: 53,303

Bottom 10 smallest California School districts, 2015-2016 school year
1. Alpine County Office of Education: 5
2. Little Shasta Elementary: 6
3. Union Joint Elementary: 6
4. Blake Elementary: 8
5. Colusa County Office of Education: 8
6. Panoche Elementary: 8
7. Jefferson Elementary: 9
8. Coffee Creek Elementary: 10
9. Green Point Elementary: 10
10. Trinity Center Elementary: 10

© 2017 KXTV-TV


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