A preliminary report from a task force created by the Illinois General Assembly offers several good ideas to start discussions on ways lawmakers can lower property taxes. One in particular could dramatically change Illinois schools, improve education for students and save money for property owners.

The Property Tax Relief Task Force, with an unwieldy 88 members, expects to issue its final report soon.

One of the topics in its preliminary suggestions noted Illinois has 850 individual school districts. Of those, 300 serve only kindergarten through eighth-grade students, 100 serve only high school students and the remaining districts serve students kindergarten through 12th grade. That means there are 850 sets of district administrations, typically the highest paid school employees.

One of the ideas is to merge those districts into K-12 unit districts to eliminate a fair number of administrative positions. That’s a good place to start.

Illinois lawmakers should seriously consider the path their Indiana neighbors started in the 1960s to consolidate small school districts into larger ones.

The effort did not come without issues, such as higher transportation costs, to overcome. But overall, Hoosier students attend schools in up-to-date buildings that offer a wide variety of classes. That cannot be said of some Illinois school districts.

Merging school districts also would allow a more efficient use of tax dollars in regard to hiring teachers. Small districts scattered across a county all need instructors for the basics — math, science, language, social studies. Reducing the number of classrooms through consolidation would require fewer teachers. And with the teacher shortage growing more severe every year, it becomes more difficult for small districts to hire qualified people for their classrooms.

Consolidated districts also are able to offer more to their students — more classes in the arts, technology and vocational studies. Many smaller districts have been forced to eliminate some types of classes — art, for example — and so limit their students’ educational opportunities.

Illinois’ lawmakers must put today’s students’ needs as a priority during the upcoming legislative session. Voters must put aside nostalgia and personal preferences aside and do the same thing.

Today’s society is changing — fast. Small towns no longer can keep generation after generation of families employed and settled. And schools must keep up with that change.

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