OKLAHOMA CITY – With almost annual attempts to force rural schools to consolidate against their will, one rural lawmaker says it is time for Oklahoma to settle the issue “once and for all.”
Senator Jay Paul Gumm, a Democrat from Durant, filed a measure that would end the concept of forced school consolidation. The proposed constitutional amendment would put the power to consolidate rural districts solely in the hands of local voters.
Senate Joint Resolution 35 would give Oklahoma voters a chance to amend the Constitution to prohibit any school consolidation unless approved by a majority of voters in each of the affected school districts.
“For far too long, many Republicans in the Legislature have tried to consolidate rural schools without input from the very people their policies would affect,” Gumm said. “I believe that decision should be left to the families who live in rural Oklahoma, not by politicians in Oklahoma City.
“We hear a lot of politicians talk about ‘local control’ for schools. The vote on SJR 35 will let us see whether they can live up to their own rhetoric.”
Gumm, a Senate assistant majority leader, said the constitutional amendment would be placed on the November 2006 general election if it passes the Oklahoma Legislature.
“We in rural Oklahoma have grown weary of this seemingly annual battle, which is little more than an attack on the rural way of life,” the senator said. “Forced rural school consolidation is just a small piece of a plan to effectively kill rural communities, and I simply will not allow that to happen without a fight.”
The proposal, Gumm said, does not end consolidation; however, forced consolidation could never happen under the amendment. For those districts and their patrons who decide consolidation is in their best interest, the amendment would give local voters complete control.
“I believe Oklahomans want policies that promote personal responsibility,” Gumm said. “That sense of personal responsibility is common among rural Oklahomans. Giving rural families this power to decide what is best for their children gives them the respect they have earned.”
Gumm said while he expects SJR 35 to clear the Senate, he has reservations about its chances in the House of Representatives. Since Republicans took control of that body, one of the staunchest advocates for forced consolidation – an urban Republican – has served as chair of the House Education Committee.
“Just last year, urban Republicans introduced a bill that would have led to a list of ‘school districts that…are subject to some level of administrative reorganization or consolidation’,” Gumm related.
“The list would have been a ‘ht list’ on rural Oklahoma, not even taking into account the wishes of the people who live there. That is poor policy and the flat wrong thing to do.”
Lawmakers will take up Gumm’s bill when the 2006 session begins Feb. 6.