October 23, 2011
By Editorial Board
The Classrooms First Commission that will have a hearing in Normal on Monday afternoon has an innocuous sounding name with a serious mission: improving student learning opportunities while reducing duplicative administrative costs.
The value of the commission will depend on how seriously the panel members approach that mission and how seriously the General Assembly -- which created it -- considers its ultimate recommendations.
Let's not forget the panel's original name under House Bill 1215, which created it: "the School District Realignment and Consolidation Commission."
School district consolidation has long been a hot potato in Illinois, but it's an issue that needs further attention -- for the sake of students, who need a well-rounded, comprehensive education, as well as taxpayers, who need a break from property tax burdens.
Although it may be beyond the scope of this commission, a review of the increasing number of education mandates is also overdue -- not just because most are unfunded but also because many of them take time away from core subjects.
Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon is leading the commission. Its members include Lynn Haeffele, a former Bloomington High School teacher who was a finalist for teacher of the year and currently is a research associate at the Center for the Study of Education Policy at Illinois State University.
The hearing at 4:30 p.m. Monday at Heartland Community College is part of a series of hearings statewide. The commission is to make its recommendations by July 1.
It is important that neither the commission nor lawmakers lose sight of the driving force behind the panel's creation, "to make recommendations to the Governor and General Assembly on the number of school districts in this State, the optimal amount of enrollment for a school district and where consolidation and realignment would be beneficial."
But in weighing how to reduce "money spent on duplication of efforts" -- part of its focus under the bill passed earlier this year -- the commission shouldn't just look at school district consolidation; it should look at the duties given to the regional offices of education. Those offices have drawn increased attention after Gov. Pat Quinn used his amendatory veto to eliminate pay for the regional school superintendents and assistant superintendents.
The commission can't do a thorough study of "duplication of effort" without also looking at those regional offices and whether some -- if not all -- of their duties could be handled by someone else or eliminated.