Simply letting each district see how others are cutting costs and
then study whether to adopt the same approach could save $1 billion,
the Classrooms First Commission claims.
The commission plans to officially release its recommendations
Tuesday for public comment. The Associated Press obtained a copy in
The commission, which includes legislators, educators, union leaders
and others, rejected Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn's idea of requiring
school districts to merge. The panel's "overwhelming consensus" was
that consolidation should be considered case-by-case.
Commission members acknowledge that many of the ideas they're
presenting have been discussed in the past without leading to any
action. Still, they said the proposals could make a real difference
in the cost of delivering education.
One recommendation is to use databases to compare spending in school
districts, so administrators can see how other schools are
successfully running on lean budgets. The commission said this
approach cut costs 5 percent in an Ohio pilot project. If the same
results were achieved statewide in Illinois, the savings could reach
$1 billion, the panel reported.
"Where resources are thin, districts are looking for this
information," said commission member Michael Jacoby, executive
director of the Illinois Association of School Business Officials.
State government could help by making it easier and less expensive
for districts to consolidate, the commission said. The state should
also switch to a two-year budget cycle so that school administrators
get a longer look at the funding picture.
Last fall, Quinn and lawmakers charged the bipartisan group with
finding ways to be thriftier while improving educational results.
That came after legislators rejected Quinn's call to merge the
state's 868 districts into just 300, which he said would have saved
about $100 million in administrative costs.
Schools have been spared deep cuts during Illinois' prolonged budget
crisis. That could change this year, with the House and Senate
considering reductions in Quinn's already-Spartan budget proposal.
Many officials have taken up the call for "efficiencies" and
"priorities" as a way to help schools make the most of the limited
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Quinn spokeswoman Brooke Anderson said the governor supports the
goal of shifting money to students and away from bureaucracy, but
she couldn't comment on the commission's suggestions because the
governor had not yet received them.
"The governor wants to see lots of recommendations and options,"
While rejecting forced consolidation of small
districts, the commission does plan to encourage voluntary
consolidation. It's calling for a new public works program to help
build new schools for merged districts. It also proposes changes in
state funding to make sure districts don't lose money by merging, as
well as making it easier for regional trustees to dissolve tiny
"What we found out is that you can't really force any district to
consolidate," said commission member Linda Chapa LaVia, a Democratic
state representative from Aurora. "Give them tools if they'd like to
There are already 12 countywide districts in Illinois and another
16 counties with small and declining student populations, according
to state and federal population projections through 2030.
Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon, head of the Classrooms First Commission, said
another useful tool is "virtual consolidation" where districts with
similar needs share resources, often through the Internet.
After presenting its tentative recommendations Tuesday, the
commission plans on getting public input in April through hearings
and the lieutenant governor's website. That feedback will be used to
produce a final report due by July 1.
"Even if the state was able to provide more funding, which a lot of
us think is needed, this is helping that money go further and
prioritize those instead of administrative costs and overhead," said
commission member Jonathan Goldman, representing Parent PAC.
By SHANNON MCFARLAND]
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