Smaller School Districts Headed For Consolidation?

Aug 7, 2013

Changes to state law could make it easier for school districts to merge voluntarily. The bill signing comes on the heels of a consolidation in northwest Illinois.

Governor Pat Quinn’s administration has long pushed for school district consolidation as a way to save the state money. A bill he signed this month amends the current rules for accelerating a desired merger.

Until now, requirements have been tied to population levels. But a new provision adds enrollment to the list. It allows districts with fewer than 750 students to bypass a referendum if they want to dissolve. Instead, they would just need a school board resolution or a petition signed by a majority of the district's registered voters.

Dave Chavira is a principal with the East Coloma District in Rock Falls. His staff recently consolidated with a neighboring district. Even though the new rules will remove barriers, he says the old process had its benefits:

"We had to go out of our way to prove it was going to create a healthier environment long term," Chavira said.

Chavira says he hopes future mergers will involve the same level of due diligence when looking at community impact. A spokesman for the chief sponsor of the bill, Senator Andy Manar, says the public will have opportunity for input, especially when petitions are involved.

Meanwhile, Chavira says he thinks removing barriers will inspire more small districts, that are struggling financially, to dissolve and join forces with other districts. According to the state, more than 50 of Illinois’ 868 school districts would meet the new criteria. Another 330 districts qualify under the current law.