Consultants advise against Cary, FRG schools merger

Consolidating school districts in Cary and Fox River Grove is not needed at this time, consultants said.

Midwest School Consultants, hired by Cary District 26 and Fox River Grove District 3 to do a consolidation feasibility study, recommended Wednesday that the districts remain independent.

“You do not seem to have the general issues precipitating or benefiting from a merger,” consultant William Phillips said. “This consulting team does not see there would be any significant improvement if you merged.”

The consultants found a $20,000 a year difference in the average teacher salary in the districts, with Cary at $80,000 and Fox River Grove at $60,000.

Phillips said a new teachers union contract would have to be negotiated in a combined district, and teachers on a higher salary schedule probably would not want to go to a lower schedule.

District 26 school board member Scott Coffey said the teachers who were cut in recent years to balance the budget were younger and lower-paid, leaving teachers that are higher on the salary schedule. About one-third of the District 26 teachers are in the retirement pipeline and receiving end of career salary bumps.

“From an average perspective, that’s why you see a large cost difference,” Coffey said. He said he was concerned the study looked at averages rather than analyzing salary schedules in the districts.

The two districts do work together in some regard. Fox River Grove sends students to Cary for its early childhood program because it’s not feasible for District 3 to run its own program.

District 3 board President Pat Hughes said the study is another tool to determine the best way to help students.

“It gives us the data to back up an opinion, and now it’s up to our superintendents to work together in collaboration … Let’s take small steps with shared services and see what the future holds.”

Cary has more than five times the students that Fox River Grove has.

Both districts feed into Cary-Grove High School and have declining enrollment.
Consultants said buildings in both districts are in good condition, although the Cary schools need fixes in parking lots.

Phillips said he would expect the need to hire more teachers in a combined district because both sides would want to make sure the same classes were offered to all students. District 26 in recent years cut dedicated art and music teachers.

If a merger did take place, the districts would be in line to receive about $3.778 million in state incentives.

Fox River Grove has the higher tax rate at $4.22 per $100 of equalized assessed value. Cary has a rate of $2.91.

In a combined district, the rate probably could be between the two, Phillips said.

If consolidation is something both parties want, it would be up to a majority of voters in both districts to approve a referendum.

The cost of the study was $15,000 of which $6,500 is reimbursed by the state. District 26’s share was $6,970 and District 3 paid $1,530.

“We’re going to explore the results of the study to see what further steps we could take,” D-26 board President Chris Spoerl said. “Part of this was not just for whether we should merge, but also how we could best benefit each other, whether it’s perhaps shared services or shared resources.”

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