The debate over consolidation has been increasing in Wood River, East Alton and Hartford since it was announced on Jan. 30 that a merger of three school districts will be on the April 7 ballot.
The Committee for the Citizens for a Better Education and Save Our Schools spokesperson, Dr. Linda Hoffman, an associate professor of psychology at McKendree University, agreed to answer concerns regarding school closings, curriculum and taxes.
If voters approve consolidation, a new seven-seat school board would be elected in March 2016 and would begin the decision-making process in April 2016. The new school board would go into effect in July 2016 for the 2016-2017 calendar school year.
Save Our Schools: The core argument of the Save Our Schools 2015 committee is that the pro-consolidation group has not been able to substantiate any real benefits of dissolving local school districts and disrupting the lives of school children.
“Please remember that the decision we make regarding dissolving our local school districts will impact the future of our children, our neighbors, and our property taxes for years to come,” Hoffman said.
Citizens for a Better Education: “As parents, teachers, coaches and citizens we want everyone to take a look around and see the declining population and the needs of our students. The difference in curricula, philosophies, and districts are affecting the area students, and not for the better,” Andrew Russell said.
“Obviously our current system in not working,” Karen Weber said. “Consolidation would guarantee aligned curriculum, which will alleviate many of the struggles a student faces in the transition into high school.”
“I have personally been in favor of merging the three districts for many years,” EA-WR superintendent Dr. John Pearson said Nov. 14. “It certainly makes the most sense from a curriculum alignment and governance perspective, with one board setting the direction for all of the children. It makes the most sense from a fiscal standpoint, as well, giving the taxpayers a lower tax rate and greater efficiency in terms of staffing, class groupings, course offerings and extracurricular opportunities. From an instructional standpoint — especially in this age of increasing accountability — consolidation makes sense, due to the fact that one board and one unified administration would be able to enact change, reforms, etc. across all grade levels.”
A concern for Hartford citizens has been the future of the Hartford Elementary School if consolidation passes.
Save Our Schools: In reference to the Midwest School Consultants feasibility study (2010), Hoffman stated in an email: “It seems unwise to initiate a process that, according to neutral third-party experts in school consolidation, might lead to some negative outcomes for our community such as teacher and non-certified staff reductions, larger class sizes, school closures, more student busing out of neighborhoods, lower revenue and higher taxes.”
Citizens for a Better Education: “Consolidation does not mean closure of any school,” Benjy Bomkamp said. “The committee has never proposed the option to close any school, and would never suggest closing any school.”
“Schools throughout Wood River and East Alton have closed their doors for good (Lincoln, Blair and St. Bernard’s),” EA-WR teacher Jesse Daniels said. “Schools closed due to low enrollment. That’s population, not consolidation. Current enrollment numbers do not support claims that Hartford should be closed any time in the near future, but that does not mean that its status won’t be re-evaluated year by year, with or without consolidation.”
Save Our Schools: “You will find that the curriculum of all three districts is currently aligned with Common Core standards as required by the Illinois State Board of Education,” Hoffman said.
In a study performed by the National Education Policy Center in Colorado, Hoffman points out (page 12) “...the (school consolidation) reform agenda is focused on higher test scores — and consolidation appears to be a very unlikely contributor (and more likely an impediment) to improved outcomes.”
Citizens for a Better Education: “The goal of consolidation in this scenario is consistency. Consistency in teaching practices, consistency in tax dollars, consistency in student opportunities, consistency in access to common technologies,” Daniels said. “There is no guarantee of consistency and cooperation between the districts, which is why consolidation is necessary.”
“This is a big picture opportunity,” Andrew Russell said. “People are leaving our area to put their children in unit school districts because they see the benefits of an aligned curriculum. Better school districts attract new residents and families, which are the heart of towns like ours.”
Save Our Schools: “When looking at school tax rates, there are two components that must be addressed,” Hoffman said. “The levied funds made up of education, operation and building maintenance, transportation, health, life and safety, working cash and lease funds and the other funds such as, bonds, IMRF, SSI and torts. Madison County Treasurer Prenzler’s calculations, which indicated a $120 tax decrease for EA and a $30 tax decrease for WR-H for those owning a $100,000 home, or a 36-cent savings for East Alton residents and a 9-cent savings for Wood River and Hartford residents, have only addressed the levied funds.”
Hoffman also submitted: “Per the most recent tax bill, the total tax rate for the high school and the school districts combined are $7.1194 and $5.3431 for East Alton and Wood River-Hartford respectively. The levied portion of the current school tax rate makes up approximately 61 percent of the total school tax rate. Therefore, the minimal tax savings after consolidation exist only if there are no increases in the remaining 39 percent portion of the tax rate.”
Citizens for a Better Education: “By voting yes, you will be voting to unite a curriculum and reduce our number of administrators,” Bomkamp said. “This reduction in administrative cost will lead to a reduction in money needed for our unit district.”
“The proposed rate of $3.50 per $100 assessed valuation as stated cannot be increased by the new board without going to the voters in a referendum,” Andrew Russell said. “A new unit board will have the same authority as the current boards in terms of raising increasing the non-ballot rates. Although the tax rates are concerns for some, the educational aspect is where our true motivation lies.”
The question to be voted on by the electorate of these districts will be:
“Shall East Alton-Wood River High School District 14, East Alton School District 13 and Wood River-Hartford School District 15, Madison County, Illinois be dissolved and a new school district be established as follows: A new community unit school district formed from all the territory included within East Alton-Wood River High School District 14, East Alton School District 13, and Wood River-Hartford School District 15, Madison County Illinois, with the authority to levy taxes for various purposes as follows: Education Fund Purposes $2.41, Operation and Building Maintenance Fund Purposes $0.64, Transportation Fund Program Purposes $0.20, Health Life and Safety Fund Purposes $0.10, Working Cash Fund Purposes $0.05, and Lease Fund Purposes $0.10, each upon all the taxable property of the school district at the value thereof, as equalized or assessed by the Department of Revenue, and a new community unit school district be formed from all the territory included within East Alton-Wood River High School District 14, East Alton School District 13, and Wood River-Hartford School District 15, Madison County, IL?”