March 14, 2013
By Kayla Heimerman
Nelson School faces almost imminent demise if voters next month do not approve a proposed consolidation with East Coloma School.
But legislation that would make it possible for small school districts to dissolve without a referendum would not have changed the desire to consolidate, administrators from both schools said.
The House Elementary and Secondary Education Committee on Wednesday unanimously advanced a bill based on recommendations from the Classrooms First Commission. The bill now moves to the full House for consideration.
The bipartisan commission, headed by Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon and comprising administrators, teachers and other stakeholders, recommended several measures to spur school district consolidation and streamline school district operations, with the goal of redirecting spending from administration to classrooms.
“If we continue to ask our school districts to do more with less, we must ensure every educator and administrator can access the tools necessary to streamline operations and invest in learning,” the commission wrote in its final report, issued in June.
The legislation would allow small schools to voluntarily dissolve without referendums; noncontiguous school districts to consolidate; and schools to tie consolidation dates to capital funding for a new building.
“We want Illinois to lead the nation in education performance, not bureaucracy,” Simon said in a news release Wednesday. “This legislation will make it easier for school districts to put their students first by dedicating resources to expanding classroom opportunities. ...”
The current law already allows small school districts with populations (not enrollments) of less than 5,000 residents to dissolve without a referendum. The proposed legislation would allow small schools with enrollments of fewer than 750 students to dissolve without a referendum.
The change would make it easier for districts with larger populations but smaller enrollments to use the abbreviated dissolution process. It would streamline the reorganization process and could lead to logical reorganizations, the commission wrote in its report.
Nelson, with 40-some students, elected to consolidate with nearby East Coloma rather than dissolve, Nelson Superintendent Gregory Lutyens said.
“We prefer the formation of a new school district, as proposed,” he said.
Consolidation, under the current law and the proposed legislation, requires approval by voters.
Nelson needs to get approval for a change from its residents in the April 9 election, East Coloma Superintendent Kevin Andersen said.
“I think it was very important for them to give their people a chance to vote on it,” he said.
Last year, the Riverdale Elementary School District dissolved, and the Rock Falls Elementary School District annexed it. The proposed legislation would not have affected the process “a bit,” Rock Falls Elementary Superintendent Dan Arickx said.
Track the bill
Go to www.ilga.gov to follow the legislation. Type "HB2267" in the search field on the left side of the page.