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Governor Pushing For Merger Of School Districts

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Gov. Pat Quinn Budget Address

Gov. Pat Quinn presents his 2012 budget plan in an address to the Illinois General Assembly in Springfield on Feb. 16, 2011. (Credit: CBS)

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SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (CBS/AP) – Gov. Pat Quinn has proposed a plan to merge the state’s current 868 school districts into no more than 300, a move aimed at saving $100 million.

The governor discussed the school consolidation plan in his budget address earlier this week and a spokeswoman for his Office of Management and Budget confirmed that the proposal would involve mandatory mergers rather than voluntary ones, as districts have done previously.

“Yes, it would be something imposed by the state,” said OMB spokeswoman Kelly Kraft.

Quinn said his plan could save taxpayers $100 million annually through elimination of administrators and improved efficiency. His administration says 247 Illinois school superintendents currently make more than the $177,400 salary Quinn receives as governor.

The Illinois Board of Education, which supports the consolidation plan, notes that 200 Illinois districts contain only one school.

Quinn says he plans to appoint a commission to review the issue but had not done so by Friday evening.

Although the plan remains incomplete, Quinn’s budget director David Vaught said part of it would be to draw new school boundaries in much the same way as the General Assembly draws lawmakers’ district boundaries after a census. Boundaries would be drawn by the commission and the Board of Education.

Although Illinois has eliminated 140 districts through consolidation since 1983, it still trails only the much more populous states of California and Texas in its number of districts. By contrast, New York, which had nearly 7 million more residents than Illinois in the 2010 Census, had only 684 districts.

School administrators and legislators expressed mixed reactions to news of the plan.

Assistant superintendent Ron Graham of the North Mac district, which was formed recently in the Springfield area from the consolidation of the former Girard and Virden districts, said he approved of the idea.

“The consolidation has been a positive thing,” Graham said. “High school students have seen an increase in class offerings.”

But in Palatine Elementary District 15, board member Jim Ekeberg said consolidation would save money, but could cause other complications.

“What it can do is remove local control,” said Ekeberg. “It sounds great on paper, but does he really have a plan?”

And Terri McHugh, a spokeswoman for Schaumburg Township Elementary District 54, which has 14,000 students and 2,000 employees, said she wasn’t sure the plan would give Quinn all the savings he is expecting.

“When you have a district this size, you still need people to manage it,” McHugh said.

State Sen. Sen. Sam McCann, R-Carlinville, said he’s open to the idea, but only if it is approached carefully.

“I think we need to be keenly aware and listen to the people of those districts,” McCann said. “The concept of the State Board of Education coming in and dictating all over the state which districts should consolidate, I don’t think that is a very good idea.”

And State Sen. Larry Bomke, R-Springfield, said forced consolidation would be a mistake and inject politics into the issue.

“I think most school districts would go along with it as long as it isn’t their school district that’s being abolished,” Bomke said. “There’s no question we probably have too many school districts. The other thing without question is the most difficult animal to kill is the school mascot.”

(TM and © Copyright 2010 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS Radio and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2010 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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