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Give districts option to merge

Published: Thursday, May 23, 2013 9:25 a.m. CST

(MCT) — Sometimes, less is more. In the case of public school districts in Illinois, it would be grammatically correct to say that fewer is more, but the idea is the same.

Illinois has 879 school districts, more than almost any other state, with many of them serving small, rural communities. In recent years, some of these rural districts, in particular, have faced declining enrollments, and some have seen their tax bases erode as residents, businesses and industries left their areas.

In response, some school districts have considered merging to help solve their problems. The idea is similar to businesses that consolidate offices. Mergers could eliminate the need for two or more districts to have separate administrations and transportation systems. Potentially, such mergers could make the districts more efficient and save money for their taxpayers.

Now, legislation that would help the state’s public school districts carry out such mergers to cut costs is headed to Gov. Pat Quinn’s desk.

The legislation, which was approved last week by the Illinois Senate on a 54-0 vote, was proposed by the Classrooms First Commission, headed by Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon. The commission studied ways that school districts could save money by reducing duplicative practices and combining educational offerings.

While it seems logical for neighboring school districts to merge, the plan outlined in the legislation also would allow districts with boundaries that don’t touch to consolidate. It would allow small school districts to reorganize more quickly, and also would link the dates that high school districts could consolidate to the availability of construction funding from the state.

The Classrooms First Commis-sion was made up of experts and people interested in education from pre-kindergarten through post-graduate schooling. It included teachers, administrators, parents and legislators.

Simon has said the legislation “will put our students — not bureaucracy — first.”

We urge Quinn to sign the legislation and give Illinois’ districts more flexibility in deciding whether mergers are the best way to deal with the challenges they face.

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This editorial first appeared in The Telegraph, Alton, Ill.

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