January 12, 2012
By Chris Dettro
Board members and administrators from six school districts south of Springfield will attend a public forum next week to discuss ways the districts might collaborate to improve academic offerings and stretch finances.
The Litchfield School District is hosting the forum for area school districts and the public at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 19, in the Litchfield Middle School Cafeteria. Representatives from Carlinville, Hillsboro, Mount Olive, Panhandle and Nokomis districts also will participate.
“As districts, we need to understand the options that exist for reorganization under Illinois school law,” said Litchfield Superintendent Chad Allison. “Using a medical analogy, we believe that consolidation is the most severe treatment for an ailing district.”
Allison said he believes there are better options to consolidation and reorganization, including sharing and collaboration among districts.
“We do the best we can, but we can’t offer a lot of higher-level classes,” Allison said. “Can we pool these kids and staff together and do something together in that area? That’s the kind of thing we want to discuss.”
The forum was suggested by the Litchfield School Board last year to discuss Gov. Pat Quinn’s original call for mandated school consolidation. In his 2011 budget speech, Quinn suggested it would save as much as $100 million by eliminating the salaries of superintendents and administrators in merged districts.
But an Illinois State Board of Education analysis found it would cost $3.7 billion over four years to merge all of Illinois' high school-only and elementary-only school districts.
The cost means forced consolidation is unlikely, said Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon, who heads the Classrooms First Commission, which is studying the issue.
To better understand the options, Bill Phillips of the University of Illinois Springfield will present those that exist under Illinois law. The major focus will be on district collaboration and efficiency, Allison said.
The school districts in attendance share many of the same challenges in doing more with less, he said.
Representatives from local regional offices of education, the State Board of Education and local legislators have been invited to the forum.
“Consolidation is a pretty severe treatment,” Allison said. “But there are other smaller steps we could take to help each other.”