Illinois Plan Won’t Make Schools Consolidate
[imgbelt img= schoolconsolidationsigns393.jpg]Several states have required that smaller school districts merge to save money. But an Illinois Commission finds that consolidation incurs its own costs.
[imgcontainer left] [img:schoolconsolidationsigns393.jpg] [source]WGEMSchool consolidation is an especially hot issue in Illinois. In McDonough County, proposed merger of three districts came up for a vote — and failed — last month.
Illinois, like other states, is struggling to finance its public schools with less money. But unlike many states, Illinois is not planning to force school consolidation. New recommendations from the Classrooms First Commission, headed by Lieutenant Governor Sheila Simon, leave open the option for school consolidation but suggest a range of alternatives, including various forms of resource sharing.
As Illinois is enduring a long-term and deep fiscal crisis, Classrooms First Commission was charged with addressing the problem of school funding. The commission’s recommendations came after months of research and discussion, with public hearings around the state on ways to deal with more efficient financing of the state’s 860 school districts, one of the highest numbers of districts in the country.
Unlike what has happened in other states, the Illinois commission did not advocate requiring the merger of school districts to save money, principally because, according to the commission, consolidation is itself an expensive process.
“Because of the large number of districts and their disparities in structure, size, and resources, mandatory consolidation has been proposed several times in Illinois in recent decades,” according to the report. “However, research shows that this approach is not likely to produce the large cost savings anticipated by proponents. Up-front costs are prohibitive in any mass consolidation scenario, including costs to merge faculty and staff, unify curriculum, modify facilities and schedules, reconfigure transportation, standardize textbooks and teaching materials, and consolidate back office operations.”
According to a 2010 article in the Journal of Research in Rural Education,
consolidation has been implemented in states as diverse as New York,
Iowa, Louisiana, West Virginia, Montana, Kentucky, and Arkansas. It
recently surfaced on the policy agendas of state legislatures in
Michigan, Vermont, and Maine.
The commission, originally called the School District Realignment and Consolidation Commission by the Illinois General Assembly, was given the charge of focusing on both student learning and operational efficiency. According to the preliminary report, commissioners adopted two key goals: improving educational opportunity and improving efficient use of educational resources.
The commission plans to hold four statewide hearings to gather public opinion on the new draft recommendations. Those hearings are scheduled as follows:
• April 19th at Parkland College in Champaign.
• April 20th at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale.
• April 26th at Prairie State College in Chicago Heights.
• April 30th at Rock Valley College in Rockford.