The Grant School District in Fairview Heights is in dire financial straits, no doubt about it.
The district has cut 17 percent from its education budget -- art, music, P.E. and many other programs -- and it's still not enough to cover all the remaining expenses.
Unless voters approve a property tax increase in April, Superintendent Matt Stines says the district may have to be dissolved.
That may have to happen even if the increase is approved. The reality is, Grant has a relatively small property tax base. Its total assessed value is less than half of the nearby Pontiac School District. Grant's total property tax rate last year was $3.83 per $100 compared with Pontiac's $2.35. But even with that higher rate, Grant collected $4.5 million compared with $6.2 million for Pontiac.
Grant's situation will worsen as property ages and loses value. There is little commercial property to bolster the base or generate sales tax revenue. And the state isn't coming to the rescue. Illinois' financial problems are so great that it probably will cut education funding even more than it already has.
Illinois has 868 school districts, which isn't financially sustainable. Smaller, financially struggling districts like Grant are going to have to merge with other adjacent districts to ensure that students get the full range of educational offerings they want and deserve. Consolidation can cut overhead and administrative costs and provide other economies of scale.
If Grant leaders are wise, they will start planning now for the long-term solution of consolidation as well as the short-term fix of a tax increase.