Monday, July 16, 2007
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Experts release school reorganization, consolidation study          Send a link to a friend

Lincoln High School and its feeder school districts assessed

LCHS board to discuss issue tonight

[July 16, 2007]  Little provokes more passionate interest in a community than when something is happening with either kids or animals. It is the topic of kids and education that is stirring up conversation in Lincoln this summer.

One of the top priorities of people in choosing where they will live is the schools. They consider the quality of education their children will receive, and if buying the house, how much the property taxes will be.

Two weeks ago a study was released that examined the condition of our schools and the possibility of consolidating a couple or all of the schools into one district unit.

The school districts evaluated were Lincoln Community High School and its feeder school districts: five Lincoln elementary schools and Lincoln Junior High, Chester-East Lincoln-Beason, West Lincoln-Broadwell and New Holland-Middletown.

A team of education experts and past school administrators, Dr. William H. Phillips, Dr. Leonard R. Bogle and Dr. Scott L. Day from Consulting and Resource Group in Champaign, performed the study. The team has worked together on numerous consolidation studies. The information they compiled is almost 300 pages. On June 27, they presented a summary of the study to an audience composed mostly of teachers.

Each school was evaluated for numbers such as current and anticipated enrollment, number of teachers, numbers and type of support staff. The types of curriculum offered, extra programs, various costs, technology, structures and their condition, current capacity, and other significant factors were also assessed. Similarities and differences and how a consolidation might be beneficial were taken into consideration.

It was observed that there are some differences in curriculum at the K-8 level. It would be beneficial to students coming into the high school if they were "on the same page," Phillips said. He also observed that all the districts were doing well in this area and that there is some sharing of programs.

In consolidation, teacher salaries would be equalized to the highest salary base (high school teachers make the most here and most places).

Some overlapping services might be combined, reducing support personnel. There is currently a shortage of nurses.

Special education programs are good and would remain the same.

While some positions would be eliminated, there might be a need to add a position or more, such as an assistant superintendent for the added operation of combined districts.

There would be a slight increase in transportation costs. Some students would be bused to partake in the increased optional programming. This is estimated to result in little change, with LCHS currently at $3.92 per student and C-EL (the high) at $3.94. There are various transportation rental, lease and owner agreements that would need to be addressed.

Another point of interest that applies here in Lincoln, where two new schools were just built, is who pays for the bond issue. He said that where there is a school district that has a bond issue, the people living in those districts continue to pay on those bonds and interest until it is complete. That burden does not get shifted to share with any other combined school district property owners under any of the reorganization options.

Phillips reviewed the 11 options for reorganization combinations of school districts, the advantages and disadvantages. He said that their group is required to make a recommendation based on the findings of the study. However, he emphasized that there is no requirement for any school district to do something based on their recommending it.

The decision is up to the school districts and the people who live here to discuss.

Phillips said that their group is recommending the optional elementary unit district. In this situation the high school and any combination of elementary districts may go together to form a unit.

This is accomplished by taking it to a vote from all districts.

If the high school said yes and any one or more elementary districts said yes, they would go together to make a new unit, and it would be K-12.

The other districts would remain K-8.

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The new unit would have a board that would set the tax rate for the K-12 unit. They would also set the 9-12 tax rates for the K-8 districts that are outside the unit.

Under this plan the property of the elementary district does not have to be contiguous to the high school district.

When you switch from dual -- as we have now between Lincoln Community High School and the feeder schools -- to units, it will change the property tax rate for the districts involved in the change.

Each property owner now pays two tax rates, one for K-8 and one for 9-12. You will usually pay more in this combination than in unit districts, he said.

If you look at property tax bills, there are several school figures.

Current "total tax" rates per student per year:

  • $1.90 -- Lincoln elementary

  • $2.77 -- C-EL

  • $2.33 -- WL-B

  • $3.09 -- NH-M

  • $2.01 -- LCHS

When looking at these figures, Phillips said, keep in mind that the smaller the school district, the more it costs to educate a student. That explains New Holland-Middletown being the highest rate.

An unseen drawback when you switch from dual districts to units is that you will lose taxing power, he said. Meaning you will not be able to generate as much tax money together as you do separately. This is because, as smaller districts, each district is allowed to levy a 5-cent tax each year, and that is limited to each unit after a combination. So there are less tax funds that can be levied each year.

Another pertinent figure looked at was how much was left on the books in the education fund of each school at the end of each year. He said that the figure for Lincoln elementary schools was getting a little smaller, but they're pretty healthy.

"When you compare these kinds of numbers to most school districts in Illinois, these districts are well-managed, well-funded; they're in good shape," Phillips said.

Also looked at was the financial profile, a report that each school gets from the state each year. All Lincoln elementary schools received "recognition status," so to speak; they are all getting A's. LCHS is just one step below, at about a B, he said

Repeatedly, in the details of the analysis, each expert assessed each of the Lincoln schools as being in pretty good shape in all aspects.

It was often pointed out that these schools are doing so well that they are in the upper minority of schools across the state. "Normally, districts in Illinois are under some stress. I think 85 percent of the school districts are in deficit spending," Phillips said. They are faced with either cutting programs or making more money, he added.

The future financial bottom line takes careful consideration. The state offers incentives to schools consolidating. Phillips calculated that the combined districts could receive about $6,461,248 paid out from the state over a four-year period. The funds would help cover the extra costs of equalizing teacher salaries, transportation increases and some of the other costs of the transition. Keep in mind the state is slow to pay schools, but they do pay, he said.

But where the funds for the increased costs would come from in the future would be one of the major underlying issues, Phillips cautioned. "You're going to have to account for these increases after four years," he said.

The matter is on the agenda for discussion at the Lincoln Community High School board meeting tonight (Monday) at 7 at the high school.

[Jan Youngquist]

You can view the study and see statistical data online at the Lincoln Community High School site,


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