CARTERVILLE – Two Southern Illinois superintendents who are preparing to consolidate their districts were among 14 people to testify in front of the Classrooms First Commission today.
The Christopher and Ziegler-Royalton superintendants told the crowd of more than 100 educators and parents that they plan to ask voters for a merger because it could double the number of courses offered to their high school students. Leaders from other districts cautioned against forced consolidation.
The testimony came during the first of four public hearings to be held this fall by the Classrooms First Commission, a statewide group tasked with finding ways to improve learning and efficiency at Illinois’ more than 870 school districts. The commission’s report is due to the Governor and General Assembly next summer.
“There is no cookie cutter approach to improving student learning and district efficiency, which is why it is so important for us to get input from local communities,” said Lt. Governor Sheila Simon, chair of the Classrooms First Commission and the Governor’s point person on education reform. “Especially when budgets are tight, we all need to take a hard look at our operations, find ways to cut duplicative costs and redirect that money toward students.”
“The commission’s goal is to listen to people, to discover efficiencies and to remove obstacles for districts that want to reorganize,” said Rep. Roger Eddy (R-Hutsonville), who represents Republican House members on the commission. “We do not want to dictate to local communities; we want to find ways to economize, operate more efficiently and in some cases, to get out of the way.”
Christopher Unit School District 99 Superintendent Richard Towers and Ziegler-Royalton Community Unit School District 188 Superintendent George Wilkerson said they hope local voters agree to consolidation so they can provide their students with an enhanced curriculum.
Each district’s high school offers under 50 courses, but a consolidated high school, with its increased enrollment, could offer and support 75 to 100 courses, they said. The districts already cooperate on course offerings such as Spanish, nursing and auto mechanics, in addition to fielding several co-op sports teams.
“The local school boards of our districts want to provide the best educational experience for our students through a more enhanced curriculum,” Towers said.
Among other testifiers was Dr. Steve Webb, president of the Illinois Association of Rural and Small Schools and superintendent of the Goreville Community Unit School District 1. He urged the Classrooms First Commission to focus first on educational quality and second on efficiency to ensure that all students receive the education they deserve.
“While we have to be mindful of how we can best utilize tax dollars for education, I believe that as we go through this process, our main goal must always be what's best for students,” said Christopher A. Koch, State Superintendent of Education, who has a delegate on the commission. “Schools must ensure a challenging curriculum is in place to prepare students adequately for college and career, and unfortunately that is not happening in some of our districts.”
The Classrooms First Commission members represent various stakeholder groups including teachers, school boards, principals, superintendents, parents and urban, suburban and rural areas. In its first phase of study, the commission will collect public input and review local and national research on educational efficiency and student performance.
“It has been demonstrated that some districts have already achieved great benefits from consolidating. Others have expressed reservations,” said Sen. Linda Holmes (D-Aurora), the representative of the Senate Democrats on the commission. “The Classrooms First Commission is providing us a great opportunity to hear the thoughts and viewpoints from a myriad of interested parties. We are listening to and learning from all of the stakeholders on how to improve efficiency in our schools and provide the best education for Illinois' children, before we take action. This is government at its best.”
Additional public hearings have been scheduled in Moline, Normal and Palatine.
“This is an important process for our education systems, and regional superintendents greatly appreciate the opportunity to participate and hear from those who really matter: the local voices,” said Larry Pfeiffer, a central Illinois regional superintendent representing the Illinois Association of Regional Superintendents of Schools on the commission. “Regional superintendents are integral to these discussions and the process schools pursue to reorganize and consolidate. We're committed to ensure everyone is heard and these challenges are debated and resolved in the right way.”
To view the hearing schedule, watch streaming live video of the hearings or to fill out an online survey regarding district efficiency, visit www.ltgov.il.gov.