GOP state House education chairman ditches consolidation plan

Wednesday, February 9th 2005, 5:04 pm
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- Bowing to pressure from rural lawmakers, an Oklahoma City Republican has ditched legislation to study consolidating school administrations to save money.

"There has been so much confusion and politicizing on this bill that I have killed the bill myself," Rep. Odilia Dank, chairwoman of the House Education Committee, said Wednesday.

Earlier, a dozen Republican senators held a news conference to make it clear that they did not support the Dank legislation or any form of "forced consolidation" of schools.

The measure first came under fire from rural Democrats, who predicted it would lead to merging scores of schools across the state.

Oklahoma has 540 school districts.

Sen. Owen Laughlin, R-Woodward, said Dank told him Tuesday night that the legislation "would not be pursued this year or next."

He said Republican senators contacted Dank after newspaper articles implied that GOP lawmakers "were for school consolidation...that's not the case at all."

Laughlin said he had nothing against voluntary consolidation and said Democratic Gov. Brad Henry had increased funding in his budget for that purpose.

Dank said House Bill 1783 and a companion measure had been mischaracterized by opponents and she did not agree with arguments that consolidating administrations would lead to closing schools.

She said the idea was merely to produce efficiencies that would allow more money to flow into the classroom.

"I'm not trying to go after anything in rural Oklahoma," she said.

Rep. David Braddock, D-Altus, praised Senate Republicans for "standing up to their metropolitan-based House colleagues."

He said rural Democrats who raised similar concerns about Dank's bill were branded by GOP Speaker Todd Hiett as "unprofessional, obstructionists and irresponsible."

"My hopes are that the Senate Republicans who made their stand against this harmful scheme aren't subjected to the same kind of reactionary slander," Braddock said.