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Oklahoma House passes school consolidation plan

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Legislation that would reward school districts for consolidating was passed Tuesday by the Oklahoma House.

Without debate, lawmakers approved the measure that offers financial incentives to encourage Oklahoma's more than 540 school districts to consolidate.

State education officials have suggested consolidating school administrators, bus routes and other functions to cut costs due to the state's $677 million budget shortfall next year.

A report released by an education task force said the state could save millions of dollars a year by consolidating school administrators, but it did not address consolidation of entire school districts.

Rep. Wayne Pettigrew, R-Edmond, said his bill is similar to incentives offered during the early 1990s that led to the consolidation of 54 school districts in five years.

The state spent $13.3 million in incentives but has saved more than $25 million in administrative and operational costs.

The measure would create a fund administered by the state Board of Education to encourage school districts to voluntarily consolidate with other districts.

The fund, totaling $3 million to $5 million, could be tapped for the purchase of textbooks, hiring new teachers, equipping classrooms and providing severance pay and unemployment compensation to personnel whose jobs are lost due to consolidation.

Allocations would be limited to the first 250 districts that applied for the funds.

The measure would exempt consolidated or annexed districts from class size limitations for five years and permit them to remain eligible for the small school district ranking in the state aid formula for 10 years.

The measure, House Bill 1153, passed 98-0 and was sent to the Senate for action.
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