Evanston’s two school boards have scheduled their annual joint meeting for Tuesday evening, and high on the agenda is a discussion of school district consolidation.
While this has been a topic that has surfaced periodically over the last several decades, there are circumstances that make resolution of the topic particularly viable today.
First is the economy. Local governments have suffered in the most recent recession more than they have since the Great Depression of the 1930s. As a consequence, there has been heightened awareness of the need to increase the efficiency of local governmental units.
Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn has set a high priority on consolidations that will reduce the number of governmental units in the state. He signed a bill into law last year that creates a 17-member Local Government Consolidation Commission whose purpose is to examine ways to streamline local government and to make formal recommendations to the General Assembly.
The Evanston City Council has placed a referendum on the ballot of the March 20 primaries to assess the desire of voters to consolidate the city and township governments.
In local school board elections last year for District 65, which operates elementary and middle schools, and District 202, which operates Evanston Township High School, candidates were virtually unanimous in declaring at candidate forums that they were open to the idea of consolidation so long as it did not sacrifice educational quality and that it actually would reduce costs.
A Citizens’ Ad Hoc Budget Committee last fall recommended consolidation as one of 30 “potential solutions” to the district’s impending financial crisis.
When the citizens group, Evanston 150, solicited ideas for improving the quality of life in Evanston in advance of the city’s 150th anniversary in 2013, the issue of school district consolidation was ranked among the top 30 ideas presented, although it did not survive to the Top Ten.
Past efforts to achieve consolidation have failed on the grounds that the salaries of District 65 teachers would have to be increased to equal that of District 202 teachers and that the end result of that exercise would be to increase overall costs of education in a newly consolidated district.
At the school board candidate forums last year, that assumption was challenged by some candidates on the grounds that thousands of unitary school districts throughout the country have successfully adopted workable salary schedules that include both elementary and high school teachers.
The public session of Tuesday’s joint board meeting is scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. at the Joseph E. Hill Education Center, 1500 McDaniel Ave.