Reorganization oral history website launched
– Most people don't think about it, but if you're involved in it on either
side, few things are as important. Now,
the stories surrounding it, told by the people who lived it, are available on
the School District Reorganization
section of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum (ALPLM) Oral
History Website at www.alplm.org and
clicking on the “Oral History” icon.
interviews with 46 people cover school district reorganization from the 1950s
to the present from all angles, and include stories by career educators,
administrators, citizens and legislators,” said Mark DePue, Director of Oral
History for the ALPLM. “Few things are
more traumatic for otherwise vibrant communities than losing a piece of their
identity when a cherished school is closed.
ALPLM volunteer Philip Pogue, himself a career educator, has chronicled
that story in this important collection of interviews.”
The oral history interviews include parents and teachers
on the front lines of the reorganization battle, as well as some well-known
names: Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon, who served
as chair of the Classroom First Commission; State Senators David Leuchtefeld,
Linda Holmes and Jeff Schoenburg; State Reps. Linda Chapa-LaVia and Roger Eddy;
and former State Schools Superintendents Robert Leininger and Max McGee. Lt. Gov. Simon also serves as Governor Pat
Quinn’s point person for education.
district consolidation has outpaced all other forms of government consolidation
in Illinois, yet we still lead much of the country in local control of
schools," Simon said. "As budgets continue to tighten and
demographics shift, we are likely to see more voluntary and virtual
consolidations, schools choosing to combine both classrooms and backroom
operations to shift spending toward opportunities for students."
Over the past several decades, Illinois family farms have
experienced a revolution of sorts, steadily growing in acreage as they also
become more specialized. One result of
this trend has been a steady depopulation of many of the state’s small towns
and rural areas; which in turn has led to the need to reorganize or consolidate
school districts. The School District Reorganization Oral
History project has looked at the complex nature of this issue beginning with
the creation of school district once Community Unit Schools were created in
1947. It covers how communities have
handled school reorganizations through the years, including public hearings, feasibility
studies and school referenda.
Communities struggling with the need to reorganize have dealt with a
dizzying array of issues, including locations and closures; tax rates; transportation routes; enrollment
impacts; consolidations, annexations, detachments, dissolutions, conversions
and cooperative schools; and that ever-important community symbol, the school
mascot, dubbed “the most difficult animal to kill” by media covering school
reorganization issues in Illinois.
The Free School Act of 1825 passed
by the Illinois General Assembly allowed land to be sold by a township to be
used for school costs. The General
Assembly then created various various types of districts through the
years: Special Charter (1833), Common
School Districts (1855), Township High School Districts (1872), Community
Consolidated Districts and Community High School Districts (1909), Consolidated
Districts and Non-High School Districts (1917), Community Unit Districts
(1947), and Combined Districts (1983).
As a result, Illinois developed a unique blend of district types
including Unit Districts (grades K-12), Elementary Districts (K-8), and High
School Districts (9-12). Funding was
primarily from property taxes, and this combined with a declining percentage of
state funding, which has dropped to less than 29 percent, means greater
reliance on local funding of schools.
The inevitable result of less funding has been reorganization – Illinois
had 11,996 school districts in 1940, and just 868 districts in 2010.
The ALPLM Oral
History Program is dedicated to preserving the stories and memories of
Illinois' citizens, not just the famous and prominent among us, but of people
from all walks of life. Oral history
combines the most ancient way humanity has preserved history—through the spoken
word—with modern technology. It preserves the first-hand accounts of
people who have lived eventful lives, giving voice to those who are too often
overlooked by traditional historians, and recording stories and experiences too
Oral History Projects currently available on-line, in
addition to School District
Reorganization, include Agriculture
in Illinois, Family Memories, Illinois Statecraft, Immigrant Stories,
Springfield African American History, and Veterans Remember.