By JERRY NOWICKI
Capitol News Illinois
SPRINGFIELD – A state lawmaker is looking to give voters the authority to force their locally-elected school boards into resource-sharing agreements with other districts for certain administration offices and functions.
While the bill allows for districts to share superintendents, other administrators and services, it exempts principals and assistant principals.
Currently, local school districts have the power to enter into resource-sharing agreements with other districts through the passage of a resolution. State Sen. Sue Rezin’s Senate Bill 1287, which passed by a 9-1 vote out of the Senate Education Committee on Tuesday, would allow another avenue to force resource-sharing: approval by the voters via a binding referendum.
Rezin said shared services might not be appropriate for every district, but the bill would be particularly relevant to communities with a K-8 school district feeding into a separate high school district with its own administration.
“This is just one way to look at sharing services while you get to keep your school district, your levy, negotiate your own teachers’ contracts within your school district, but have one curriculum which allows for a continuum of education,” Rezin, a Morris Republican, said.
The ballot-driven sharing process would require 5 percent of voters within a school district to sign a petition to put a question on the ballot for any district that is to be part of the shared services, unless the district’s school board has already voted to share resources.
If the majority of voters or the school board in each affected district cast their ballot in favor of sharing services, the districts in question would be required to come up with a plan to consolidate certain offices or services. Failing that, the regional superintendent of schools – which is a locally-elected position – would be tapped to help broker a resource-sharing plan.
Rezin said if a referendum passes, it would not immediately void contracts of the officials to be consolidated. Instead, it would “start the conversation” about how resource-sharing would be accomplished in the future.
“This isn’t easy by any means,” Rezin said. “But this is a conversation about where we need to go for some districts.”
All of the savings made possible through a resource-sharing agreement would be distributed equally between the affected districts, with half of it going toward funding classroom education and the other half going to property tax relief.
Rezin said the idea for the bill came from a report she read from the Metropolitan Planning Council – an independent, nonprofit, nonpartisan organization focused on regional growth – which said Illinois pays the highest amount of any state for school administration.
Adam Slade of the MPC said Illinois is the only state in the U.S. that tops $1 billion in administration spending – at $1.1 billion – despite serving the fifth most students. California, which serves the most students, spends 33 percent less, Slade said.
On average, Illinois school districts spend $544 per student on general administration, the third-highest rate in the nation behind North Dakota and New Hampshire. If the state spent at the national average of $226 per student, Slade said, taxpayers would see more than $600 million in savings.
“Research has shown that service sharing is a good way to take advantage of economies of scale,” he said, noting some Ohio districts share treasurers.
But statewide school management groups and administrators are opposed to the measure.
Diane Hendren of the Illinois Association of School Administrators said voters already have a say in resource-sharing efforts through locally-elected school boards.
“The taxpayers locally elect their locally-elected officials and their school boards,” she said. “Therefore, school boards do have the authority to share superintendents.”
Rezin said the bill would offer districts the opportunity to withdraw from sharing plans the same way they entered into the agreement – either through referendum or school board vote, while a school board would not be able to overrule a referendum.
She also promised further discussion and potential amendments to the bill as it moves through the legislative process.