The article below appeared in the December 22, 2005 edition of the Chicago Tribune. Diane Rado is one of their best education reporters.
State urges district mergers
By By Diane Rado, Tribune staff reporter. Tribune staff reporter Darnell Little contributed to this rep
Illinois has one of the most fragmented, massive and inefficient education bureaucracies in the nation, and state officials--under pressure to put more money into schools but unwilling to raise taxes--are renewing efforts to merge school districts, the Tribune has learned.
Consolidations would not be forced. But significant changes in the law would make it easier for voters to approve mergers and allow districts to combine in ways prohibited in the past, according to a memo by state schools Supt. Randy Dunn that was obtained by the Tribune.
Lawmakers would have to approve the proposals, crafted by Gov. Rod Blagojevich's staff and state education officials.
The goal, officials say, is to free up scarce dollars for the classroom or reduce property-tax bills.
The precise savings are unknown because the amount would depend on which districts merged and other factors. But a Tribune analysis found that nearly 900 districts spent $643.3 million on schools boards and administrators in 2003-04. And the smallest districts spent three times more of their budgets on administrative costs than the largest districts.
Saving even half that $643.3 million could boost state aid by more than $200 per child, according to state estimates. That would be the second-largest increase in per-pupil aid in nearly a decade.
Blagojevich has been instrumental in increasing per-pupil aid during his administration, but he remains under pressure from schools and education advocacy groups to increase school funding even more.
Illinois has not made a serious attempt to merge districts since 1985, when consolidation legislation was approved but later gutted as districts fought to keep their students, buildings, jobs and tax bases.
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