Spring break has come and gone for the 2021 spring session of the Illinois General Assembly. As the march toward adjournment heats up, this is a great time for you to get involved. Nothing stirs emotion and interest like a proposal to potentially reorganize or in some way consolidate school districts in Illinois. HB7 is just such a bill. It was filed on Jan. 13, 2021, and carries the title of “School District Efficiency Commission.” This measure passed out of a House Committee prior to the spring break, and recently a couple of amendments were filed to change the original version of the bill.
This is not the first time there has been a push for some type of consideration of consolidation of the 852 school districts in Illinois. Myriad task forces and commissions have studied the topic for years. The latest well-known effort was called the Classrooms First Commission. It was “led” by then Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon in 2012, and I served on that commission. Its final report can be found online with a simple search. Recommendations dealt with removing barriers to consolidation and streamlining the process. There was no effort to force local districts into any type of consolidation or reorganization.
State law provides for several types of school district reorganization. These methods allow for local input and decision making. Consolidation of school districts requires that a majority of voters approve the merger in each of the districts involved in the proposed consolidation. The process begins when a committee, called the “committee of 10,” is formed, consisting of 10 individuals from the districts involved. Open meetings are held, and key decisions must be made in order for the group to serve the regional superintendent with a valid ballot proposal. In 2002, I was part of a local committee of 10 that worked to prepare a consolidation proposal between two rural unit districts in southeastern Illinois. Ultimately, that proposal failed, passing in one district and losing in the other, proving it is difficult to take down a school mascot. Overall, the important thing was that people were provided the opportunity to determine if the merger was a good idea.
HB7 would shift away from the committee of 10 process to another type of committee, the “school efficiency committee.” It would ultimately be able to forward a proposed consolidation petition to the regional superintendent for voter consideration without specific local representation on the efficiency committee. The planned efficiency committee structure is much larger than the current committee of 10 and includes government officials, elected officials, union appointees, statewide management association appointees and parents from various regions of the state. In all, there are 25 proposed members of this efficiency committee.
The efficiency committee’s responsibility is to identify a certain number of school districts, based on certain criteria, to be the subject of a local consolidation referendum. There are many more details in the proposal, including a clear focus on establishing unit districts (K-12) by merging existing dual high school districts with K-8 elementary districts.
If this concerns you, this is the time to be heard. Go to www.ilga.gov, and type HB7 into the search-by-number box, then click on “Full Text.” At that point you can read through the proposal and amendments being offered to get a better idea of what this might mean to your local community
You can even file a witness slip online and make comments about the legislation you are interested in. Simply go back the General Assembly home page (www.ilga.gov) and click on the “GA Dashboard” link. That link is highlighted in red. Click the appropriate House or Senate committee hearing based on what you learned about where the proposal is in the process. Posted bills are listed, along with a link to file a witness slip. Fill the slip out and add your thoughts and your voice.
Of course, you could contact your representative or senator directly by using the Senate or House member directory on the General Assembly home page. Just click on the name of your elected official. Office locations in Springfield and in-district phone numbers are located on this page, and you could call to make an appointment to discuss your concerns or leave a message regarding your support or opposition.