Illinois schools push district consolidation to address teacher shortage
School board members in rural Illinois said consolidating districts will reduce staffing shortages exacerbated by the pandemic. A statewide review of district consolidation could reduce administrative overhead and pump an additional $732 million into classrooms.
Somonauk School Board Chairman Mike Short said it’s a disservice to students that a statewide teacher shortage, compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic, has forced Somonauk High School offer online science lessons instead of hands-on experiences.
“We are able to provide students with an online curriculum for science courses,” Short said. “But doing a science experiment virtually where you click with your mouse and move this beaker to this beaker and pour this flask into that one and watch the reaction happen on a computer screen in a cartoon? That’s far from to be the same.”
At nearby Leland High School, students cannot earn college credit through advanced placement courses, also due to a lack of staff. Leland School Board President Claire Anderson and Short agree that consolidating school districts would solve both districts’ problems and are asking voters to make the change in June.
School district consolidation is a problem throughout Illinois, which has 852 school districts and nearly half of those districts serve only one or two schools. Because of all these duplications, Illinois leads the nation in administrative overhead.
If Illinois matched the national average, it would have 220 districts, a drop of 25%. This would save nearly $732 million in unnecessary overhead, which could instead be used to hire teachers and boost academics or used to slow the nation’s growth. second highest property tax burden.
Illinois has a plan to get there, but it takes political will.
The first classroom law was introduced by state Rep. Rita Mayfield, D-Waukegan, in 2019. Members of the Illinois House of Representatives passed it unanimously, but she never received a full vote at the State Senate.
The law would create the Effective School District Commission, tasked with making recommendations to consolidate 25% of the districts. Each recommendation would then be approved by local voters, with each district agreeing to the mergers.
Somonauk and Leland are good examples of how this could work to give students greater academic offers and taxpayers a break. Both schools would use the same buildings and no one would lose their jobs, but Short and Anderson said the benefits would quickly be apparent.
“There are going to be quick wins. But in 10 years, in 20 years, what kind of neighborhood can we be proud of offering excellent student and university life, while remaining very tax-friendly with our taxpayers? Anderson said.
If voters approve, the new district would begin in the 2022-23 school year.
Giving voters the choice to reduce administration costs and invest more money in classrooms is simply smart. Pumping $732 million a year into classrooms or cutting property taxes would benefit all Illinois.