Top Democrat: School consolidation shouldn't be forced

2011-02-28T15:36:00Z 2011-03-01T18:43:09Z Top Democrat: School consolidation shouldn't be forcedBy Kurt Erickson | kurt.erickson@lee.net pantagraph.com
February 28, 2011 3:36 pm  • 

SPRINGFIELD -- A top state Democrat signaled Monday that Gov. Pat Quinn's push to reduce the number of school districts in Illinois may be flawed.

Senate President John Cullerton said he agrees the state needs to reduce the number of school districts from 869, but is against Quinn's proposal to force districts to merge.

Cullerton prefers an incentive-based system.

For example, the state could help two merging districts build a new high school, as well as establish a way for the state to help retire any debt from a financially strapped district that wants to consolidate with a wealthier district.

"If you try to force this on schools and communities, I'm afraid it will go nowhere in the legislature," Cullerton said in a release Monday. "Ideally, we want to be able to make certain school districts an offer they, in effect, can't refuse."

Quinn unveiled his plan during his budget address Feb. 16. He believes slashing the number of school districts to about 300 could save $100 million by eliminating duplicative administrative costs.

Under his proposal, a commission would impose new district boundaries that are larger in size than current districts and eliminate grade school districts that overlap with high school districts.

Quinn budget spokeswoman Kelly Kraft said Cullerton's ideas won't spur enough consolidation.

"The incentive based approach has been in place for at least a decade and even though it had early success, this approach has not led to the consolidation the Quinn administration feels is needed to bring about more efficiencies in the operations of schools as well as a reduction in administrative costs to save taxpayers money," Kraft noted in a message Monday.

Although they disagree on the approach, Cullerton, a Chicago Democrat, said he agrees with Quinn that the idea should be addressed.

"We're definitely for school consolidation and we think we've got a way to make it work," Cullerton said.

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