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Simon: School mergers not necessary to save money 

 
WJBC Radio
April 17, 2012
By Paul Morello

BLOOMINGTON – Illinois Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon said Tuesday state school districts can save up to $1 billion without being forced to consolidate.

The Classrooms First Commission, which Simon chairs, released a set of draft recommendations Tuesday.

The commission claims districts could save by simply studying each other’s budgets to find new ideas for cutting costs.

“The draft overall is a package of voluntary and virtual consolidations, with the virtual consolidations being those things districts can do working with other school districts, while they’re still retaining local control over their decisions,” Simon said.

Here is a list of the commission’s recommendations:

  • Allowing compact but not contiguous districts to consolidate; currently districts must be compact and contiguous
  • Expanding the regional board of school trustees dissolution authority, by allowing local districts with under 750 enrollment to seek dissolution with or without a referendum; currently this is an option for districts serving communities with under 5,000 people
  • Piloting a new capital project list that targets school construction money at districts willing to consolidate and that are in need of new buildings, additions, and/or building renovations
  • Phasing in lower local tax rates for new unit districts; currently, elementary and high school districts become a lower, unit taxing district immediately after consolidating
  • Requiring counties with small and declining school-age populations to conduct efficiency studies that could lead to shared services, district mergers, or even county-wide districts; 12 counties currently have county-wide districts and another 16 counties have small and declining student populations, according to state and federal population projections through 2030
  • Authorizing the Illinois State Board of Education to provide a web-based resource management program to districts to help them identify up to $1 billion in instruction, transportation, food services, administration and facility maintenance savings

Ultimately, Simon said, the recommendations have two goals.

“They are designed for greater efficiency in the use of our school funds, and greater opportunity for students, no matter where they are even if they’re in small districts across the state,” she said

Gov. Pat Quinn has called for merging the state’s smaller districts. But the commission says its “overwhelming consensus” was that forced consolidation would cost the state huge amounts of money.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.