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State hears suggestions for reforms 

Quad City Times
November 2, 2011
By Kay Luna

Don't force Illinois school districts to consolidate.

But help those that do.

Consider new ways to educate kids, including virtual schools.

These are some of the suggestions presented Wednesday to Illinois Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon at Black Hawk College in Moline, where she led the Classrooms First Commission in a public hearing about ways to improve student learning and efficiencies in the state's nearly 870 school districts.

The public hearing, the third of its kind across the state, gave people the chance to provide testimony on issues facing preschool through 12th-grade education in Illinois.

"We want to hear what we can learn for you," said Simon, who serves as Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn's point person on education reform, "and what we can share with you across the state."

Simon added that the hearings have been well attended, including the one in Moline, where nearly every seat was filled. Afterward, she was scheduled to tour the new Western Illinois University-Quad-Cities riverfront campus in Moline.

Many of the speakers who addressed Simon and commission members seemed most concerned that the state would force districts to consolidate.

Joe Buresh, district superintendent in Annawan, Ill., said he is opposed to that idea and is concerned that "educational efficiency and educational success are undefined in current talks."

"What is best for children needs to ring out the loudest," he said.

Norm Durflinger, director of the Center for the Study of Education Policy at Illinois State University, said if the state does decide to require school district consolidations, then "academic performance should be one, if not the leading factor, in consolidating schools."

Durflinger also suggested efficiencies such as pooling health insurance between districts, adding that "some of this may have to be forced."

A few mentioned the state's regional offices of education, saying they handle some of their districts' administrative duties and don't know what might happen if they went away.

Henry County Board chairman Tim Wells said he wants the state to "plan first, then execute." He wants to see an entirely new K-12 system, with virtual schools and a focus on the "four A's:" academics, athletics, arts and activities.

Jay Morrow, superintendent of the United Township High School District in East Moline, said the state also should consider changing the state's tax structure to keep more families living in Illinois, rather than moving to Iowa. He said some changes also could allow for more education funding.
The commission is expected to begin drafting recommendations in April for the state to consider.