A pair of west central Illinois school districts are taking the first step in another hard look at consolidation.
Members of the Bluffs School Board voted to join the Winchester School Board in an agreement to contract a feasibility study on consolidation during their regular meeting Monday night. The agreement passed by a vote of 6 to 1 following the Winchester school board’s unanimous passing of the measure during their September 15th meeting.
According to the Scott County Times, Bluffs School Board member Dwayne Hart was the lone vote against the study, stating this was not the time to talk about consolidation.
Joint Superintendent of both districts, Kevin Blankenship says the approval is just for a third party study so both boards can review an in depth look at the data to see if consolidation is worth further consideration.
“We will have an outside third party, Midwest School Consultants is who we contracted with. They will look at the districts overall, where both districts are currently. They look at everything curriculum related, they look at enrollment, enrollment history, transportation, facilities and finances. And at the end of the feasibility study, which we are hoping is going to be November of this year, they will put forth some recommendations and some options for the boards to consider from a third party view point.”
Hart said during the Bluffs meeting that the pandemic, combined with it being an election year on top of a struggling economy made this the wrong time to even consider the measure.
Blankenship says with the topic of consolidation coming back around every decade or so, both boards felt a hard look at if consolidation would make sense for both districts is the right thing to do.
“It’s designed to provide the districts with some data on things that they need to look at and consider if they want to go forward with the consolidation process. So I often tell people this is the first step. We preach all the time that boards of education need to make informed decisions and this gives them one piece of data they are going to need to move forward.
So that is kind of where the boards thought, we have had these discussions several times over the last thirty, forty, fifty years and there’s not been a feasibility study we don’t believe since 2000, so it’s probably been around twenty years ago. So the boards thought, hey this is our first step, we want to collect information to help make informed decisions so that’s kind of what got us to the feasibility study.”
Blankenship says he feels after years of continued interest in consolidating, both the school boards and the community are in a better position now to consider consolidation for the right reasons.
“I think the boards are in a different position now just because they are looking at this, I think holistically. They are looking at what is going to be the best for our kids and can we make things better, and if so, how can we move forward to do that? So I think we have had the athletic co-op now for fifteen plus years, I think it has been successful.
I think there are a lot of folks that when it was passed were skeptical. They wondered how it was going to impact the two school districts, but it’s been successful. And I think people have looked at that and said, oh so the school districts can work together.”
Blankenship says he also feels that after having served as a shared superintendent for two years now, along with the long standing athletic co-op helps to show both districts can work together in the long run.
The two districts will split the cost of the study which totals at $12,500.00. Blankenship says there is a chance some or all of that cost could be reimbursed by the state. He says there is an application process to follow, and only so much funding goes into that state funding pot each year.