A study to determine the facts regarding consolidation of Washington’s four school districts could be on the horizon. 





District 308 school board members approved paying one-fourth of the cost to participate in a consolidation study — which would include Central School District 51, Washington District 50 schools and Washington District 52 schools -— at the Dec. 13 school board meeting. 


 

 

 

A study to determine the facts regarding consolidation of Washington’s four school districts could be on the horizon. 


District 308 school board members approved paying one-fourth of the cost to participate in a consolidation study — which would include Central School District 51, Washington District 50 schools and Washington District 52 schools -— at the Dec. 13 school board meeting. 


Christopher Nichols, District 51 school board president, sent a letter inviting each district to participate in the study. The cost of which, he said in the letter, might range from $7,500 to $10,000. The cost for each district would be about $2,500. 


Dr. Chad Allaman, District 51 superintendent, said District 50 is also on board for the study and District 52 will make a decision in January. 


The study would consider the benefits of a K-12 unit district and a K-8 district with Washington Community High School District 308 remaining independent. 


According to Allaman, there are four concerns that prompted the study. 


The first is timing.


“It’s been more than a decade since the last study,” Allaman said. 


The previous study was rejected by a committee — which included District 308 current board members Gloria McNett and Tim Custis -— because of the fact that if the districts were consolidated, everybody in the consolidated district would be required to be paid at the highest salary schedule of the current four districts.


That law still applies today.


The second issue that prompted the study invitation is voter concerns. 


“Proponents of consolidation have been a loud voice in recent referendums,” Allaman said.


Proponents believe that consolidating would save taxpayers money. Facts to back up these beliefs, however, have not been presented. The study would provide the facts necessary to support or disprove their claims.  


Increasing enrollments in each district is the third point encouraging the study. 


“We have rapidly increasing enrollments in (District 51), and each district is certainly not falling in student population,” he said. “The student population at the high school, we believe, is going to continue to increase.” 


He added that projections show that Washington’s student population will continue to grow.


The final concern, is state funding, which Allaman said is “completely up in the air.”


“We’ve been in a crisis situation for several years when it comes to state funding, and the outlook for the future is still uncertain,” he said. 


Allaman said the next step is to schedule a meeting of all the township’s school boards to make sure everybody’s on the same page. Then a request for proposal would be issued. 


“I would anticipate January, February, sometime late winter or early spring before we get started.”


Washington District 308 superintendent Dr. Jim Dunnan said that districts in the surrounding communities range from being separate and unified. Area communities with separate districts for schools include Metamora, East Peoria and Pekin. Those with one district to serve all schools include Morton, Eureka, Peoria and Dunlap. 


Consolidating, Dunnan said, has pros and cons. Pros include a better opportunity to have consistency in curriculum. This, he added, would be true for a K-8 or K-12 district. 


“We work pretty diligently on that right now, but you obviously have different districts, so there’s always the situation where someone could say they want to run a different curriculum,” Dunnan said. “If you’re all under one umbrella, there’s the tendency that the curriculum is going to be more consistent.”


Dunnan said the need to pay all employees based on the current highest pay scale in the districts could once again deter the movement to a unified district. 


 “There would be a pretty significant financial impact to take three districts which have a salary schedule that are not as high and then move them to the highest one,” he said. “I’m sure that’s going to be looked at pretty extensively during the study.”


Savings could pop up in other areas, he said. A savings could be seen in transportation because consolidating the four districts’ bus routes could lead to route reductions.


If Washington’s school districts were to be consolidated, Dunnan said the administrative structure would be reconfigurated. However, that does not necessarily mean that the majority of the districts’ administrative staff would be out of a job. 


“You would have one superintendent, but when you’re looking at a district that would probably be in excess of 4,000 students, I don’t know if you’re going to drastically reduce the number of administrators,” Dunnan said. “In a district that size, typically you’d have a superintendent and then you’d probably have an assistant superintendent for finance, an assistant superintendent for curriculum and possibly an assistant superintendent for buildings and grounds.”


Despite the outcome of the study, Allaman said its purpose is to gather facts.


“We can’t present any facts if we don’t have the data,” he said.