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Editorial: Illinois attempts tepid reform: Commendable effort sidesteps main issue 

Quad City Times Editorial Board
November 7, 2011

Illinois Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon swung through the Quad-Cities last week for Illinois' version of school reform.

Her earnest effort is commendable in a state where reform seems as welcome as influenza. Simon brought her Classrooms First Commission to get public feedback on public education. Among those testifying were a stream of local district leaders cautioning against whole district consolidation. Indeed, Simon prefaced her meeting with the Times Editorial Board on Wednesday by emphasizing the need for efficiencies other than full district consolidation.

"Consolidation sometimes is the way you get there, sometimes not," she said. Surrendering to political realities, Simon said the specter of consolidation scares away other meaningful collaboration that can improve education and save money.

She delivered the same message at her forum Wednesday at Black Hawk College. That college is next to the United Township High School District, an area where six separate elementary and high school districts with six superintendents oversee an enrollment smaller than Moline's entire, single K-12 district.

Simon rightly points to online and faculty-sharing alternatives that can be implemented without wrestling through consolidation. She emphasizes community college connections that can bring higher level instruction to small rural districts, or lead collaborative grant writing among neighboring districts.

All are commendable.

But we hate to see anyone surrendering on the district consolidation front.

United Township's separate high school district is the best, but not only example of expensive redundancies that local school board members cannot manage around. They need state help.

Simon's hearings are identifying targeted collaborative areas aimed largely at improving instruction, not reducing overhead. So, any good ideas embraced in the UTHS district still will be burdened with the cost of six superintendents, six boards, six finance directors serving an enrollment easily managed in single districts in many, many places across the country, including the Moline/Coal Valley and Rock Island/Milan districts that consolidated long ago.