Parents, teachers, and administrators who attended Monday night’s school consolidation forum at Vernon Hills High School had one message for State Representative Carol Sente: if the state’s school consolidation bill goes any further, they want local voter control.
“They want to fix our district to make it better. We believe it works the way it is,” said Susan Sturlinger, a parent who lives in Libertyville Elementary School District 70.
Guy Schumacher, superintendent of Libertyville Elementary School District 70, said that in Illinois school consolidation can happen between districts at any time that the voters choose. Rarely does it happen just to save money, which is the main reason lawmakers cite for pushing for countywide school districts. The fact that the four school districts which feed into High School District 128 remain separate should send a message to lawmakers, he said. When school districts consolidate, Illinois law states that they will receive financial aid for three years.
“They already can’t pay their bills. How can they help us if they force consolidation?” Schumacher said.
Several parents agreed with Schumacher and said that there is no reason to consolidate.
"[Forced consolidation] could jeopardize the quality of education in the district,” said Wayne Brown, the father of a third grader and a kindergartner in the Oak Grove School District.
Brown's family has lived in the district for three years and he likes the fact that it is a small district with a strong relationship between the school board, the administrators and the parents.
District 128 and its four feeder school districts are high-performing, meaning that they have financial viability, quality curricula, and the support programs and extra-curricular activities that work to create high-achieving students throughout the district. Parents are concerned that the high-performance of the districts will disappear with countywide districts.
“What’s the model for a large successful school district?” asked one mother during the question and answer session. She cited the Chicago Public Schools, U46 and Washington DC schools as large districts that are not working.
Attendees of Monday night’s program were relieved to hear that the original bill has been amended. The bill would have dissolved all school districts in Illinois with the exception of Chicago’s Public Schools and created countywide districts.
Prentiss Lea, superintendent of District 128, said that bill would have essentially created new school districts before the end of the current school year.
On March 9, the new bill, HB1216, was amended and includes provisions to create a task force of teachers, administrators and lawmakers who will study the impact of countywide school districts. The time frame for the study extends into summer of 2012. Action on the new bill is non-binding.
Parents, however, are not happy with the fact that it does not include local voter control.
Sente and State Representative Linda Chapa LaVia are the bill’s co-sponsors, which has already passed through committee and will be up for a vote in the next few weeks.
Sente promised people at the meeting that she will ask Chapa LaVia why the bill does not include a provision for voter control and will pull her name from sponsorship if it cannot be amended.
Sente added that if there is no local voter control on the bill, she will not vote for it. She said she is not an education expert, and attended the forum to hear about the specific issues with which parents and teachers are concerned.
Schumacher said he has one hope for Sente.
“When educators make decision, our first commitment is to the children. I hope that when it comes time to vote, Sente asks herself that question. Is this the right thing for our children. I hope she asks it in her heart and in her head,” Schumacher said.
Lea said he was pleased with the turnout, but hopes people will not become complacent and think that forced consolidation will not happen.
“We need to stay engaged in the process. Now is not the time to sit back. This could be a win-win situation, but we need to stay involved,” said Lea.
Area residents with specific concerns about the forced consolidation can email Sente at firstname.lastname@example.org.