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Education issue an example of why change won’t add up

Published: Wednesday, July 24, 2013 9:36 a.m. CDT

(MCT) — Saving $1.5 million in the state’s huge budget is not a big deal. In fact, it’s pretty much a drop in the bucket when you consider the state has pension obligations nearing $100 billion and a backlog of unpaid bills that sits at $6.1 billion right now, but is expected to grow to $7.9 billion by December if the General Assembly doesn’t take some action.

Still, the failure of the state’s regional school superintendents to come up with a plan to reduce their numbers from 44 to 35 is instructive on why the state’s budget is out of whack.

Gov. Pat Quinn has proposed that the regional offices be eliminated. He said they were an unneeded layer of bureaucracy and that the local school districts could handle those tasks. Quinn has a point, although local districts aren’t eager to take over the duties of the regional superintendents. And, the regional superintendents are a small part of the state’s educational bureaucracy. If Quinn wanted to eliminate bureaucracy in education, there are better places to start.

Anyway, the compromise was for the regional school superintendents to come up with a plan to reduce the number of offices to 35, which would save $1.5 million in tax dollars. By July 2015, each office would be required to represent at least 61,000 residents, compared to the current requirement of 43,000.

We’re not talking a massive upheaval here. It’s complicated, but this is not something that will send shock waves through school systems. The changes, taken in total, aren’t that dramatic.

But the regional superintendents couldn’t pull it off, primarily because not every county affected by the consolidation signed off on the redistricting proposal.

That means that the State Board of Education will take a shot at making the changes happen. The board should adopt work of the regional superintendents, which appears to be well thought out and based on sound reasoning.

It’s expected that the number of offices will be reduced, and the money will be saved.

But the larger lesson is how difficult it is to change Illinois government, even in relatively small ways. The state has more governmental units, by far, than any state in the nation. That creates an expensive and inefficient system that taxpayers have to fund.

But nothing changes because those in power — from all levels of government — spend a good deal of time protecting their turf. It’s hard to fathom why a county wouldn’t sign off a simple plan that would either save taxpayer dollars or put more money into classrooms. But it happens all the time in Illinois.

And it’s one of the main reasons the state’s financial problems will continue.

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This editorial first appeared in The Pantagraph, Bloomington, Ill.

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©2013 The Pantagraph (Bloomington, Ill.) Distributed by MCT Information Services

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