Friday, October 25, 2013

Regional Office of Education consolidation moved up to November

By Jamey Dunn

The state board of education will likely be deciding the fate of the state’s regional offices of education sooner rather than later.

Gov. Pat Quinn vetoed the money to pay regional superintendents in 2011, saying that the money should be instead spent in the classroom. The superintendents sued and eventually a compromise was worked out. The state would continue to pay the administrators, but the offices would be consolidated down from 44 to 35. Counties were supposed to decide which offices would merge. Some counties made consolidation choices but some did not. “There were frankly some unhappy campers and they only could come to 38,” said Sen. William Haine, an Alton Democrat, who sponsored the bill to consolidate. The decision got passed along to the Illinois State Board of Education.

The original legislation gave the board until June 2014. But lawmakers voted this week to that date up to November 23, so a new map of the regional districts can be finalized in time for the candidate filing deadlines for 2014 elections. Haine said the change in timeline is needed so that potential candidates can know the boundaries of the district in which they are seeking to run. The board plans to make a decision at their November 22 meeting. They have up to four maps to choose from. The Illinois Association of  Regional Superintendents of Schools has endorsed a map. But not all superintendents back the association’s plan. Some superintendents have proposed other versions of the map. Matt Vanover, a spokesperson for ISBE, said that the board has already heard about two hours of testimony from interested parties.

Yet another option would be for ISBE to honor the plans made by the counties that were able to make a decision by the deadline set in the original legislation. The board would then only make the consolidation choices for the regions that were unable to meet the deadline. “Those county board resolutions need to be adhered to. They did what they were asked to do and what they were required to,” said Sen. John Sullivan, a Rushville Democrat. Each new district must have at least 61,000 residents. Sullivan and other lawmakers that represent sparsely population rural areas say they are concerned that districts in their region might be too geographically large to be effective. Sullivan said the thinks all parties involved generally agree that ISBE should make the final call. However, he said, “Now there’s going to be a lot of lobbying, it sounds like, to the state board of education.”

Vanover said that ISBE staff is compiling all the information and testimony provided to help board members make their decision. He said that the board will continue to take written testimony up until its November meeting. For more information on how to submit testimony, call the board at 1-866-262-6663.

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