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Our view: Stick failed; try carrot 

Northwest Herald Editorial Board
July 10, 2012

The “carrot” vs. the “stick” – which approach would work better to boost efficiencies and improve Illinois’ public education system?

In 2011, Gov. Pat Quinn proposed that the number of Illinois school districts be forcibly cut from 868 to 300. Quinn’s heavy-handed proposal rubbed enough lawmakers the wrong way that it was scuttled.

So much for the “stick.”

Enter the “carrot,” in the guise of the Classrooms First Commission, approved by the Legislature, signed by Quinn, and chaired by Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon.

The commission, which submitted its final report last week, offered 23 recommendations, or “carrots,” if you will, to encourage school district consolidation and streamline school district operations.

Commission members from across the state met over the past 11 months. They reviewed educational data, met in working groups, and collected public input. Among the suggestions:
  • The state’s consolidation incentive system must be improved. Members called on the Legislature to change the system in five years to a predictable, affordable formula that better responds to the needs of merging districts.
  • Non-contiguous school districts should be given more opportunities to consolidate.
  • The authority of regional school boards to dissolve districts should be expanded.
  • The state should conduct feasibility and efficiency studies for districts in counties with fewer children.

In recent months, Cary District 26 and Fox River Grove School District 3 have discussed studying consolidation. Both districts feed into Cary-Grove High School and have declining enrollment

And leaders from Community High School District 155, Crystal Lake District 47, District 26, District 3 and Prairie Grove District 46 recently agreed to study how they can share everything from buildings to special education, technology to transportation services to save money.

We salute local educators and school board members for seeking more efficient and affordable ways to educate students.

Perhaps, within the Classrooms First Commission’s thoughtful report, they will find sufficient “carrots” to reach their objectives.