Some say consolidation is the solution

Published 04/03 2013 10:06PM

Updated 04/04 2013 10:49AM

SPRINGFIELD -- School districts statewide are looking for ways to overcome major cuts in next year's budget. One idea is consolidation, but WCIA-3's Ashley Michels finds out the solution looks "better on paper than in practice."

You won't meet too many graduates of North Mac High School. That's because the district is almost brand new.

"We are in our third year of consolidation."

North Mac was formed when two smaller districts couldn't stay afloat on their own. But, Superintendent Merica Cullen says merging came with a price tag of its own.

"Our consolidation costs in the North Mac district are about $900,000 of additional costs that we would not have incurred."

It's for things like new signs, buying new sports uniforms and building new curriculum. Plus, she says it's a tough sell for communities with deep-rooted rivalries.

"You have to resolve things like, where do you play basketball games, where do you play football games, where's graduation?"

Cullen says mergers can, and do, work, but it isn't a quick fix for cash-strapped schools.

"We haven't been consolidated long enough to have completely gotten our financial feet under us."

She says it takes years before there's any savings, but many districts are already struggling to pay the bills. And more cuts are on the way, leaving districts with few options.

"It's a little disconcerting to hear from politicians that you do it to save money. That's not why you do it, because you're not going to save money."

Even though it's not necessarily a savings, Cullen says consolidations are a good thing. They're better for the quality of education and having more students in the district allows the opportunity for more specialty classes.

Illinois has 868 school districts. Two years ago, Governor Quinn proposed cutting that number down to 300. But, not much has happened with that push for consolidation.

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