Posted on May 10, 2012 2:32 PM
Commission Examines Strategies for Coordinated Investments Across School Districts
Local service coordination, and where appropriate consolidation, is one of several coordinated investment strategies emphasized in GO TO 2040 for local governmental units to create efficiencies and adapt to a future of increasingly limited financial resources. In northeastern Illinois, 307 public school districts collect nearly half of all revenues from local governments (over $18.5 billion in FY 2009). Yet there is broad agreement that the quality of education in our region -- as measured through student achievement and overall educational attainment -- is lacking and in many cases getting worse.
Last fall, the Illinois General Assembly created the Classrooms First Commission with the following objectives:
- Reduce the money spent on duplication of efforts.
- Improve the education of students.
- Lower the property tax burden.
- Provide recommendations as to what the net cost savings of realignment is to Illinois.
- Provide input to school districts on reorganization.
In April 2012, the Commission released preliminary findings on different cost saving options for districts throughout Illinois. The options include providing tools for districts to increase efficiencies without consolidation, reducing some of the barriers that hinder voluntary consolidations, and encouraging “virtual” consolidations whereby districts can share administrative services and educational resources. The commission found that these strategies would reduce duplicated efforts, would improve student performance, and could save the state over $1 billion annually. This projection exceeds the $100 million in savings originally sought by Governor Quinn in his earlier proposal to mandate the consolidation of over 500 of the state’s 866 districts.
The Commission notes that its work is part of a long-term effort in Illinois — the state has 866 districts in 2011, down from 1,008 in 1984, according to a January 2012 report. Illinois does have some financial incentives and approved measures in place for consolidation, including general state aid for a newly formed district, subsidies for consolidations of districts carrying budget deficits, and support for increasing salary schedules of teachers from the lower-paid district to achieve parity in the newly formed district. However, the commission identifies several barriers to consolidation and outlines strategies to streamline the processes.
CMAP will continue to monitor the Classrooms First Commission, whose final report is due on or before July 1, 2012. This effort to pursue coordinated investments is important to the region’s long-term vitality. In the face of constrained public resources, schools must still find ways to deliver high quality education that prepares students to become civically engaged and contribute to the region’s economy. The Classrooms First Commission is scheduled to meet again on May 22 at the Illinois State Board of Education in Springfield.