School districts consider sharing services

CRYSTAL LAKE – Leaders from five local school districts want to study how they can share everything from buildings to special education, technology to transportation services to save money.

Board presidents from Community High School District 155, Crystal Lake District 47, Cary District 26, Fox River Grove District 3 and Prairie Grove District 46 recently agreed to recommend such a study to their boards.

It’s not clear how much the study would cost, and no decisions have been made on how to split the expense.

“The goal isn’t consolidation,” District 155 board President Ted Wagner said. “We want to look at how we can work together to enhance student achievement at the best value for the taxpayer.”

He suggested that the districts – which serve nearly 20,000 students – explore ways to share resources such as buildings and buses, and a range of services from special education to snow removal and payroll. The combined purchasing power could help save on fuel, school supplies and overhead, Wagner said.

But more research is needed.

“Without an independent study that speaks directly to our situation, we cannot definitely say what would provide the best value to our students, taxpayers and community,” Wagner said in a statement released Wednesday.

In terms of what could be shared, District 47 board President Jeff Mason said, “Everything’s on the table for consideration in the study.”

Mason said he hopes the study will identify ways to improve services and control costs now and in the future.

School districts throughout the state already share many services. Locally, District 47 and District 155 have shared busing services since the 1970s.

“It’s not surprising that districts would be looking for more opportunities to share resources,” said James Russell, spokesman for the Illinois Association of School Boards. “Especially considering the pressure to consolidate.”

Although school districts are willing to share costs, they often are unwilling to give up local control, he said.

Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon is wrapping up a study to “examine spending that is far removed from students, to cut bureaucracy and redirect tax dollars toward students,” according to her website. The Classrooms First Commission is expected to make recommendations to the legislature in July.

A 2005 study by the nonpartisan Reason Foundation and Deloitte Research found that “in most states, at least 40 percent of every dollar spent on education never makes it into the classroom.” That money is taken up by administration and support services.

District 155, which draws students from districts 3, 26, 46 and 47, has been preparing for several years of declining enrollment.

Faced with increasing costs and less state revenue, working with other local districts to save money makes sense, Wagner said.

It wasn’t immediately clear when the study could begin. It first would need approval from each of the five school boards.

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