April 30 public hearing in Rockford to address draft school district consolidation recommendations

Online Staff Report

Illinois Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon (D) will be in Rockford Monday, April 30, to host a public hearing seeking input on a set of draft recommendations that would make it easier for school districts in the state to consolidate.

The April 30 public hearing will be from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m., at the Rockford Valley College Woodward Technology Center, Room 117-121, 3301 N. Mulford Road.

Three other public hearings will be held throughout the state, as follows:

Thursday, April 19, 4:30-6:30 p.m. — Parkland College, Room D244, 2400 W. Bradley Ave., Champaign, Ill.;

Friday, April 20, 4:30-6:30 p.m. — Southern Illinois University Student Health Center Auditorium, 374 E. Grand Ave., Carbondale, Ill.; and

Thursday, April 26, 4:30-6:30 p.m. — Prairie State College, Conference Center Auditorium, 202 S. Halsted St., Chicago Heights, Ill.

The Classrooms First Commission is seeking public input on a set of draft recommendations approved April 17 that would make it easier for school districts to consolidate and help them save up to $1 billion in operations costs by sharing services, Simon said.

I want to hear from citizens across the state as the commission finalizes its recommendations on school district efficiency and effectiveness,” said Simon, who is chairman of the Classrooms First Commission. “Educators, parents and taxpayers helped develop these recommendations, and I urge them to remain involved as the commission begins the final stage of its work.”

No districts would be forced to consolidate under the draft recommendations, but the state would require counties with small and declining school-age populations to study whether county-wide consolidation or sharing services would save money and boost learning. Other draft recommendations include the following:

allowing compact but not contiguous districts to consolidate; currently districts must be compact and contiguous;

expanding the regional board of school trustees dissolution authority, by allowing local districts with under 750 enrollment to seek dissolution with or without a referendum; currently, this is an option for districts serving communities with under 5,000 people;

piloting a new capital project list that targets school construction money at districts willing to consolidate and that are in need of new buildings, additions, and/or building renovations;

phasing in lower local tax rates for new unit districts; currently, elementary and high school districts become a lower, unit taxing district immediately after consolidating;

requiring counties with small and declining school-age populations to conduct efficiency studies that could lead to shared services, district mergers, or even county-wide districts; 12 counties currently have county-wide districts and another 16 counties have small and declining student populations, according to state and federal population projections through 2030;

authorizing the Illinois State Board of Education to provide a web-based resource management program to districts to help them identify up to $1 billion in instruction, transportation, food services, administration and facility maintenance savings.

The Classrooms First Commission is a bipartisan group of education stakeholders that was charged last fall by Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn (D) and the General Assembly to reduce duplicative education spending and improve educational outcomes. It reviewed several paths and collected input from hundreds of Illinois educators and taxpayers through public hearings and an online survey to create the draft recommendations that were approved for release April 17.

The second round of public hearings will provide citizens an opportunity to bring their ideas on the draft recommendations directly to commission members. Attendees will be given 5 minutes for oral testimony, and speaking slots will be provided on a first come, first serve basis. Individuals are also permitted to provide written testimony.

To view a live-stream of the public hearings or submit online comments about the recommendations, visit www.ltgov.illinois.gov.

Posted April 19, 2012

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