Efforts continue to reduce the number of regional school superintendents in Illinois. A 2012 law asked local officials in certain areas to approve consolidation plans that fit their needs. But a key deadline was missed in the process.
The cost-cutting law was pretty clear. If a regional superintendent’s office served a population base of less than 61-thousand, it had to explore a merger with another location. The goal was to bring down the number of offices from 44 to 35. If enough consolidations weren’t reached by June 30th, the State Board of Education would step in to finalize a plan.
In northern Illinois, things went fairly smoothly when the Whiteside County office had to look elsewhere. It ended up agreeing to join forces with the office that serves Lee and Ogle Counties. Ogle County Board Chairman Kim Gouker says they signed off on the plan, even though the population threshold wasn’t something they had to worry about.
“Whiteside fell under that, we didn’t. But we felt it best to make a proactive consolidation with someone we could choose,” Gouker said.
Gouker says they were worried about what other changes to the population requirement might be imposed down the road.
“We felt that if Whiteside were to consolidate with someone else, and then the next round of consolidation did come, then we would be forced to look in some other direction that wouldn’t quite be as favorable to us and our residents,” Gouker said.
Regional offices of education handle things like teacher certifications and GED programs. Gouker says there would be some additional headaches, such as longer travel distances. Still, he says, exploring a merger to their liking might make things easier than having to go through one that isn’t suitable for the area.
But not all of these consolidation efforts at the local level have had success. Bob Daiber heads the regional office in downstate Madison County. He also served as the ROE association’s president until his term expired this month. He says they had trouble getting everyone on board in some regions.
“Throughout the majority of the state, the county boards followed the map of advisement and we had successful mergers. We have three to four unsuccessful areas that were not completed by the deadline,” Daiber said.
Because not all county boards signed off on proposals in certain areas, the overall plan is now in the hands of the state waiting to be finalized.
“We would hope the state would honor the work that’s been done, because there is a lot of effort that has went into this by local governments,” Daiber said.
Daiber says they are frustrated they did not meet the deadline. But he says he has faith in the state to take a close look at what’s been drawn up so far.
Matt Vanover is a spokesman for the Illinois Board of Education. He says that should be part of the process.
“I think at this point in time we need to be able to look at the various scenarios that the regional offices of education or the county boards looked at themselves,” Vanover said.
But Vanover suggests there are no guarantees because, he says, the fact remains that at the deadline, they didn’t receive a plan that meets everything spelled out under the new law.
“There really isn’t anything in there that meets that legal definition. So there’s really nothing to go and say ‘that’s okay’” Vanover said.
Vanover says the board will have to go on a fact-finding mission to come up with something that will bring down the number of regional offices to 35. That will be due early next year. The changes aren’t scheduled to take effect until 2015. With control of the new map now in someone else’s hands, it’s anyone’s guess at this point what it will ultimately look like.