Gov. Pat Quinn’s proposal to shrink Illinois’s government is getting resistance from the part of the state that complains he spends too much money: Downstate.
Quinn wants to consolidate some of Illinois’ 868 school districts, and has put Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon, a lifelong Downstater, in charge of the project. Only two states -- California and Texas -- have more school district than Illinois. We have districts that run only an elementary school and a middle school. For example, Fox Lake District 114, which requires a superintendent to oversee two schools and 861 students.
Or take the small town of Morris, which has 12,000 people and four school districts. According to Illinois Statehouse News:
Morris Elementary School District 54 Superintendent Terri Shaw said folks in Morris have never liked the idea of school consolidation, and liked the idea of a state mandate even less.
“We’ve looked at (consolidation) in the past, but local school boards have always said no,” said Shaw.
State Rep Pam Roth, R-Morris, said local parents know the most about their local schools.
“If (school consolidation) makes sense in a community and a community is supportive of it, it needs to be a community decision. I don’t think as a General Assembly we should be making and mandating school consolidation,” Roth said.
In a small town, the school is the one institution that unites the entire community. A town that loses its school also loses its sports teams and its school colors. Fear of losing local identity plays a role in the resistance to consolidation. I once reported on a school consolidation in Central Illinois. The most bitterly fought issues were the new team’s colors and nickname.
Saving money isn’t the only good reason to consolidate school districts. As this article in Salon points out, the proliferation of local governments in Illinois is one reason Chicago is the third-most segregated metropolitan area in the United States:
In the South … government tends to operate at the county -- and not city -- level. A major source of segregation in the North is the ability of white people to live within overwhelmingly white political jurisdictions -- this is less possible in much of the South.
“Whites can’t pick up and flee across municipal boundaries,” University of Pennsylvania historian Thomas Sugrue said.
Countywide school districts also mean that schools tend to be more integrated.
No one’s going to say it, but that may be another reason Quinn’s plan isn’t going anywhere.
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