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Oral history website memorializes school consolidation 

 

School District Reorganization oral history website launched

SPRINGFIELD – Most people don't think about it, but if you're involved in it on either side, few things are as important.  Now, the stories surrounding it, told by the people who lived it, are available on the School District Reorganization section of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum (ALPLM) Oral History Website at www.alplm.org and clicking on the “Oral History” icon.  

 

“These interviews with 46 people cover school district reorganization from the 1950s to the present from all angles, and include stories by career educators, administrators, citizens and legislators,” said Mark DePue, Director of Oral History for the ALPLM.  “Few things are more traumatic for otherwise vibrant communities than losing a piece of their identity when a cherished school is closed.  ALPLM volunteer Philip Pogue, himself a career educator, has chronicled that story in this important collection of interviews.”

The oral history interviews include parents and teachers on the front lines of the reorganization battle, as well as some well-known names:  Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon, who served as chair of the Classroom First Commission; State Senators David Leuchtefeld, Linda Holmes and Jeff Schoenburg; State Reps. Linda Chapa-LaVia and Roger Eddy; and former State Schools Superintendents Robert Leininger and Max McGee.  Lt. Gov. Simon also serves as Governor Pat Quinn’s point person for education.    

"School district consolidation has outpaced all other forms of government consolidation in Illinois, yet we still lead much of the country in local control of schools," Simon said. "As budgets continue to tighten and demographics shift, we are likely to see more voluntary and virtual consolidations, schools choosing to combine both classrooms and backroom operations to shift spending toward opportunities for students."

Over the past several decades, Illinois family farms have experienced a revolution of sorts, steadily growing in acreage as they also become more specialized.  One result of this trend has been a steady depopulation of many of the state’s small towns and rural areas; which in turn has led to the need to reorganize or consolidate school districts.  The School District Reorganization Oral History project has looked at the complex nature of this issue beginning with the creation of school district once Community Unit Schools were created in 1947.  It covers how communities have handled school reorganizations through the years, including public hearings, feasibility studies and school referenda.  Communities struggling with the need to reorganize have dealt with a dizzying array of issues, including locations and closures;  tax rates; transportation routes; enrollment impacts; consolidations, annexations, detachments, dissolutions, conversions and cooperative schools; and that ever-important community symbol, the school mascot, dubbed “the most difficult animal to kill” by media covering school reorganization issues in Illinois.

The Free School Act of 1825 passed by the Illinois General Assembly allowed land to be sold by a township to be used for school costs.  The General Assembly then created various various types of districts through the years:  Special Charter (1833), Common School Districts (1855), Township High School Districts (1872), Community Consolidated Districts and Community High School Districts (1909), Consolidated Districts and Non-High School Districts (1917), Community Unit Districts (1947), and Combined Districts (1983).  As a result, Illinois developed a unique blend of district types including Unit Districts (grades K-12), Elementary Districts (K-8), and High School Districts (9-12).  Funding was primarily from property taxes, and this combined with a declining percentage of state funding, which has dropped to less than 29 percent, means greater reliance on local funding of schools.  The inevitable result of less funding has been reorganization – Illinois had 11,996 school districts in 1940, and just 868 districts in 2010.

The ALPLM Oral History Program is dedicated to preserving the stories and memories of Illinois' citizens, not just the famous and prominent among us, but of people from all walks of life.  Oral history combines the most ancient way humanity has preserved history—through the spoken word—with modern technology.  It preserves the first-hand accounts of people who have lived eventful lives, giving voice to those who are too often overlooked by traditional historians, and recording stories and experiences too rarely preserved.

Oral History Projects currently available on-line, in addition to
School District Reorganization, include Agriculture in Illinois, Family Memories, Illinois Statecraft, Immigrant Stories, Springfield African American History, and Veterans Remember