School groups: Local decisions key in school consolidations

Allowing district residents to decide whether to consolidate preferred to state mandate, officials tell IFB leaders.

Voluntary, local decisions remain the recommended option for district reorganization, Farm Bureau local and state government leaders recently learned.

Deanna Sullivan, with the Illinois Association of School Boards; and Calvin Jackson, with the Illinois Association of School Business Officials, discussed consolidation and related topics with members of the Local and State Government (LSG) Strength with Advisory Team (SWAT) in Bloomington.

Ron Kindred, LSG SWAT chairman, told FarmWeek his team wanted school reorganization information to ensure current IFB policy “covers all the important details.” 

Although Illinois ranks third for the most public school districts in the U.S., that number “isn’t far off when compared to other states” with similar student populations, Sullivan noted. In addition, Illinois offers three types of districts: unit districts for students in preschool through high school, elementary districts for preschool through eighth grade and high school districts.

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Related: Evidence-based funding formula in place, but school districts await final figures. Click here.

Two state task forces, chaired by lieutenant governors in Democratic and Republican administrations, both recommended voluntary consolidations with incentives versus mandated reorganization, Sullivan said.

“We have to let local communities decide the delivery system (for educating students),” she said.

Jackson, who has experience with 40 consolidations, agreed: “The point is citizen-led decisions not (those) being mandated by the state.”

When districts begin considering whether to consolidate, a feasibility study is key, according to Sullivan. Such a study considers many issues from the potential financial impact of merging unionized staff to transportation to students’ educational opportunities.  

Sullivan referred SWAT members to the Illinois State Board of Education website for comprehensive information about different types of reorganization, including consolidation. For reorganization details, visit isbe.net/Documents/Reorg.pdf. To learn more about consolidation, visit isbe.net/Documents/consolidation.pdf.

Sullivan and SWAT members also discussed the state’s new evidence-based school funding formula and the potential impact on districts throughout the state.

“It’s based on (funding) adequacy per student, and each district has a different adequacy level each year,” Chairman Kindred said. “The goal is to keep all districts out of the red.”

LSG SWAT policy recommendations will be forwarded to IFB’s Resolution Committee.

Content for this story was provided by FarmWeekNow.com.
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