School Consolidation Talks Becoming More Common Due to Lagging Enrollments, Teacher Shortage

By Benjamin Cox on October 21, 2022 at 9:54am

School district consolidation is becoming a large topic across West Central Illinois. It’s been on Illinois lawmakers’ radar for the last two years.

House Bill 7 in March 2021 called for the creation of a commission to study consolidation of school districts by studying efficiency and resource savings. The bill wouldn’t have been a forced consolidation but would have sent the question to voters in areas where school districts overlap or share administrators rather than having consolidation being decided by current school boards. The bill ended up dying in August 2021 in the General Assembly with both parties voting against the bill.

The Libertarian think tank Illinois Policy Institute said in a report back in April that rural district consolidation would ease staffing shortages made worse by Covid-19 and could cut administrative overhead. The report said if Illinois, which currently has over 850 school districts, would consolidate 220 of those districts (roughly 25%), it would save $732 million that could be placed back into the classroom or used to hire new teachers or give pay raises to current ones for retention.

Jacksonville School District 117 Superintendent Steve Ptacek says that leadership in Illinois is dragging its feet to address the ongoing teacher shortage in order to possibly force consolidation to the forefront: “I think across the state as individuals hear about the teacher shortage and they start seeing some of the low class size numbers in some of our schools throughout the state that if you combine them, there might not be as much of a [teacher] shortage. I do think that is leading to the lack of urgency that we see in many leaders throughout the state, that their could be an easy answer of ‘If we just had less schools, we wouldn’t have as much of a teacher shortage.’ I’m not saying that I agree with that or that I’m saying that is a valid argument, but I think that we have to be ready to deal with the reality that there are voices talking about concerns with the teacher shortage might be landing on some deaf ears because they might be saying that many of these schools need to consolidate.”

Currently, 16 area high schools are under 200 enrollment in the area. All of those districts have double digit vacancies of teachers, paraprofessionals, or other staff.