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At a joint meeting on Jan. 17, the District 65 and 202 School Boards discussed on a very preliminary basis some issues relating to consolidation of school districts, which has been an issue raised by members of the community from time to time. A subcommittee of the Boards was appointed to explore whether the Illinois State Board of Education could provide resources to study whether consolidation improves student achievement and potential costs.

The Picture Statewide

Ericka N. Lindley, executive director of Ed-Red, gave a short presentation on what was happening at the state level. In his budget speech in February 2011, Governor Pat Quinn proposed that 869 school districts in Illinois be consolidated into 300 on a mandatory basis. He suggested the State would save as much as $100 million by eliminating the salaries of superintendents and administrators in merged districts.

In response to this proposal the legislature created the “Classroom First Commission,” chaired by Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon. The Commission is assigned the task of studying how school districts can improve educational opportunities, reduce duplicative spending, and lower the tax burden through shared services, consolidation or other realignment options. The Commission’s report is due in July, said Ms. Lindley.

In December 2011, the Illinois State Board of Education presented a report to the Commission that estimated it would cost the State about $3.7 billion over a four-year period if Illinois required all K-8 school districts to consolidate with the high school district its K-8 students attend. The costs are due to incentives the School Code requires the State to pay to consolidated districts for three or four years after they consolidate.

In light of these costs, Lt. Gov. Simon said the State is unlikely to require all school districts to consolidate. There may be other ways to gain efficiencies, she added.

D65 and D202

The possibility of consolidating School Districts 65 and 202 has been raised by members in community on numerous occasions, most recently during the 2011 School Board elections. One reason given against consolidation is that District 202 teachers are paid at a higher pay scale than District 65 teachers; and if there was a consolidation, District 65 teachers might have to be paid at the higher scale, costing taxpayers a substantial sum.

Richard Rykhus, a member of the District 65 Board, asked Ms. Lindley, “Legally, what are the options to deal with the equalization of salaries?” She responded, “I don’t believe there’s a requirement that school districts move to the higher scale … but the School Code allows you to do that.” She added that the pay scales may have to be negotiated with teachers in the process of reaching a collective bargaining agreement.

Gretchen Livingston, District 202 Board member, said, “The focus ought to be on the students and the implications for the students.” Many other members agreed. District 65 Board member Kim Weaver suggested the Districts research the impact of consolidation on student achievement, both statewide and nationally.

Andy Pigozzi, District 65, said, “I personally don’t see a huge benefit through consolidation.” He said there could be a huge financial impact due to the difference in pay scales. He added that he did not think consolidation would improve academic achievement, saying he thought the highest-performing high schools are those that are solely high school districts.

Jonathan Baum, District 202, said it was premature for the Boards to discuss consolidation because they lacked adequate information, but they should explore whether consolidation would benefit students and what it would cost.

Mr. Rykhus said, “Consolidation is an option a lot of people would like to be educated on.” He added, “I think it’s important to move this along.” After members of both Boards expressed reluctance to ask administrators to research the issues, Mr. Rykhus suggested the Boards explore if there were resources available at the state level to do a study on whether there are educational benefits and what it would it cost to consolidate the Districts.

District 65 Board member Katie Bailey asked for volunteers to serve on a subcommittee to explore this with Mr. Rykhus.

Tracy Quattrocki, District 65, volunteered to serve, saying, “We don’t know enough to reject it or embrace it.” Deborah Graham, District 202, was pressed into service.