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Lt. Gov. Simon hosts fourth Classrooms First hearing 

Testimony highlights special education co-ops, shared service collaborations            

DES PLAINES – November 3, 2011. Lt. Governor Sheila Simon’s Classrooms First Commission held its fourth public hearing of the fall this afternoon at Oakton Community College. Members learned about special education cooperatives and the benefits of shared service collaborations.            

The public hearing provided parents, taxpayers and educators the opportunity to give testimony on how K-12 school districts can improve learning and efficiency. The Classrooms First Commission is a statewide group tasked with finding ways to improve learning and efficiency at the nearly 870 school districts in Illinois. Its members represent education stakeholders, from parents to teachers, administrators and lawmakers.                       

“These hearings are all about the commission keeping an open mind and gathering ideas on efficiencies that promote what is best for students,” Simon said. “There is no cookie cutter approach to improving student learning and district efficiency, which is why it is so crucial to get input from as many citizens as possible from across Illinois.”            

“The top priority of this commission is to ensure that we are maximizing our resources so that our children have the best possible educational opportunities,” added State Rep. Linda Chapa LaVia (D-Aurora), the House Democrat on the commission. “I look forward to hearing the testimony as we work together to continue to improve our school system here in Illinois and I commend Lt. Governor Simon on her outstanding leadership of this commission.”            

Among those testifying was Dr. Rita Jacobson, the executive director of the North DuPage Special Education Cooperative (NDSEC), who discussed the need for commission members to review the structure and organization of special education cooperatives, joint agreements and inter-governmental agreements to identify the most efficient and effective way to deliver quality service to students with disabilities.            

“Having been charged with the responsibility of educating students with disabilities, special education cooperatives must do so as effectively and efficiently as possible and at the same time maximize and balance available resources with student needs,” Jacobson said. “A comprehensive study of our special education organizations will help us establish to what extent we are meeting this responsibility.”                

NDSEC is a cooperative joint agreement that provides special education services to 18 school districts in DuPage County. These services include programs for students with autism, multiple disabilities, emotional disabilities, developmental delays, hearing impairments, visual impairments, learning disabilities and cognitive disabilities. NDSEC is one of 67 such cooperatives in Illinois.            

“The spirit of the special education joint agreement is one of cooperative planning and effort, directed toward a single objective – the provision of services and facilities for children,” said commission member Jimmy Gunnell who is president of the Illinois Alliance of Administrators of Special Education. “The Classrooms First Commission should examine special education service delivery models for efficiencies and maximizing resources. The commission should research the inequity of special education funding formulas and streamlining intergovernmental agreements. Special education cooperatives are the essence of across district efficiency.”                        

Several superintendents from suburban Cook, DuPage and Lake Counties also testified and discussed shared service collaborations that have allowed their districts to coordinate services, including student transportation, food service, and technology purchases. There are also a growing number of districts working to save taxpayer dollars by sharing administrative staff.             
The commission will now move into the second phase of its study as it breaks into working groups each focused on one of the following topics: realignment, within-district efficiencies, and cross-district efficiencies. Work groups will review the testimony collected at public hearings, the presentations given at commission meetings, and the ideas submitted to an online survey that has collected over 300 responses so far.            

In the third and final phase of its deliberations, the commission will draft recommendations and collect additional public opinion in the spring before sending a final report to the Governor and General Assembly in the summer.             

“The transparent process guiding this diverse commission will allow us to build on ideas and expertise from different communities,” Simon said. “Together, we will find ways to put students and classrooms first.”