SPRINGFIELD — Small school districts looking to consolidate can now accelerate the process by filing a petition, under a signed into law Friday.
Currently, school districts serving a population of fewer than 5,000 residents have the option to accelerate the school’s reorganization process by dissolving without a referendum vote. House Bill 2267 will allow school districts with fewer than 750 students to take similar advantage of the speedier process of dissolving by filing a petition — a locally driven process.
“There are dozens of low-enrollment schools that didn’t qualify under the old criteria, even though it had very few students,” said State Senate sponsor Andy Manar, D-Bunker Hill. “Tying this process to school enrollment is logical and will save districts looking to consolidate time and money.”
According to Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon’s office, a little over 50 of Illinois’ 868 school districts would meet the new criteria. Another 330 districts qualify under the current law.
Gov. Pat Quinn proposed reducing the state’s 868 school districts to 300 in 2011, saying it would save the state money. But a study commissioned by the Illinois State Board of Education found that the ‘cost-saving’ proposal would actually cost the state an estimated $3.7 billion.
“My children attend school in a small district,” Manar said. “I know how important local control is when it comes to our kids’ education. Decisions regarding consolidation or dissolution should be made at the local level, not by the General Assembly or our governor. This law not only protects our small schools, it also protects local control of our schools.”
Manar’s proposal is an initiative of Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon’s office and based on recommendations made by the Classrooms First Commission, which was tasked with suggesting ways Illinois school districts can improve student learning opportunities and reduce duplicate costs.
In signing the legislation Quinn touted it as a means of making local government more efficient.
“Since I took office, I have made identifying areas of government where we can root out waste, reduce costs and improve services a top priority,” he said. “Today we are doing more with less than ever before.”
House Bill 2267 implements several of the recommendations of the Classrooms First Commission. The new law’s provisions allow non-contiguous school districts to reorganize and to operate a cooperative high school. The law also allows districts with fewer than 750 students to dissolve without a referendum either through a school board resolution or a petition signed by a majority of the district’s registered voters. The new law takes effect immediately.
Quinn on Friday also signed House Bill 1045, which extends the due date for the final report of the Local Government Consolidation Commission to September 30, 2013. The original deadline was Dec. 31, 2012.