Illinois lawmakers are close to passing legislation with the goal of reducing the state’s public school administrative costs, but school officials are pushing back against the proposal.
State lawmakers are making a bipartisan push to create a commission whose job would be to examine the state’s 852 districts, find those most likely to benefit from merging administrative duties and then put a question on the next election ballot about combining them into a unit district.
“...if the Commission adopts the report recommendations by an affirmative vote of at least 11 of its members, then the Commission's recommendations for reorganization of school districts into unit school districts must be placed on the ballots of the designated school districts in the next general election in the same manner as petitions approved by a regional superintendent of schools, except without financial incentives,” the bill reads.
The goal, supporters said, is to lower the state’s total number of districts by 25 percent.
State Sen. Tom Cullerton, D-Villa Park, told the Senate Government Accountability and Pensions Committee on Wednesday that previous task forces and commissions on consolidation have studied the issue, but said little has been done to reduce property taxes.
“My suburbs ... are getting pummeled by property taxes,” he said. “We need to find some way to bring some relief.”
Cullerton said that the measure wouldn’t consolidate schools, rather just school administrations where appropriate.
Lawmakers were largely receptive, having voted unanimously for it, but showed some concern about the scope of the legislation.
“It’s not that it’s a bad idea, I think that there’s just a tremendous amount of work to be done before I’m going to be comfortable moving something like this forward,” said state Sen. Melinda Bush, D-Grayslake.
Amanda Elliott, with the Illinois State Board of Education, said agency officials are concerned about the cost of that many consolidations, which she estimated at more than 200.
“The cost could be significant,” she said, adding that examining the state’s districts in one year would be a heavy lift. “It is not possible to that amount of work in that amount of time.”
The bill would also require any new school district formed in the state to manage both high schools and elementary schools.
Should it be enacted, it would represent the most significant effort to lower the state’s nation-leading property tax burden in years. In Illinois, nearly two of every three property tax dollars go to public schools.
“Nearly every state surrounding Illinois has fewer districts, they serve more students per district and they have lower general administrative costs,” said Adam Schuster, research director for Illinois Policy.
There have been nineteen reformations of school districts in Illinois in the last decade.