O’Fallon and Shiloh school districts have agreed to pursue a consolidation feasibility study. Now, they just need to find the money go get it done.
An in-depth study would look at all the different possibilities for consolidation. Options could include consolidating just the elementary school districts Shiloh 85, Central 104 and O’Fallon 90, or just Central 104 and O’Fallon 90, or just one elementary district and O’Fallon Township High School (OTHS) District 203, or all four.
Cost for such as study could range from $12,000 to $25,000.
On July 17, the O’Fallon City Council approved a $7,500 to help pay for the study.
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Because education is so important, O’Fallon Mayor Herb Roach said he felt that the city should take the lead in helping move the study forward.
“I hoped that by doing this it would spur others to contribute to the study as well,” Roach said.
With so many options available, Roach said it was important to have a comprehensive look at them all, so everyone’s concerns could be addressed.
“We need to see if we can get answers to those questions for everyone,” he said.
On July 24, Shiloh Mayor Jim Vernier also asked his village board to approve $5,000 for the study.
“It’s something that I think we need to support,” Vernier said. “In order to have this be very open and what I would say is broad and fair.”
The measure passed 5-1. Trustee Bob Weilmuenster was the opposing vote. It will get a final vote at the Monday, Aug. 7 at the regular Shiloh Village Board meeting.
Vernier said it was important that people have confidence in whatever the study’s findings are.
“It’s going to be non-influenced by the school districts,” Verneir said. “It’s going to be an independent study… We won’t know what is the best, and that’s what we need is an in-depth study.”
The Building Educational Success Together (BEST) Committee discussed possible consolidation at its meetings June 5 and again Wednesday, July 19. At their latest meeting BEST members reached a consensus to allow the O’Fallon-Shiloh Chamber of Commerce to spearhead fundraising efforts to pay for the study — the idea being removed any perceived bias on the part of individual school districts out of the picture.
“I think it’s likely that the chamber will do that as a bridge to the community. Right now, we are in a listening phase,” said Paul Evans, a chamber director who also participated in the July 19 BEST meeting.
Dave Hopkins, chamber education committee chair, also participated.
“I believe that the parties involved, such as the BEST committee and the Chamber of Commerce, want this to be a truly independent study,” said Roach.
Evans said part of his goal would form a statutorily required committee of 10, with members coming from across the spectrum in the community.
“I’m in conversation with many elements of the community, and I think there are concerns that past studies may have been bias to a certain result, and I am telling everyone that on behalf of the chamber, we are going to be as open as possible,” Evans said.
Superintendents from all four school districts were in attendance at the BEST meeting, as well as various board of education (BOE) members. All agreed with state funding being tight, having outside entities fund the study would be ideal.
“I think that the majority of our board is interested in a study happening, because we want to know, either way: Does consolidation make sense or not? We would like some data and facts to see if it also makes financial sense, or if it will be beneficial otherwise, whether it be curriculum alignment or for the students,” John Wagnon, O’Fallon District 90 board president, said previously.
Mary Baskett, O’Fallon 90 BOE member, said she’s been interested in the subject of consolidation for 20 years “for the reason of collaboration and making a better school district, not that I think it’s going to save money necessarily.”
“I also came away from the last BEST meeting thinking it’s not an easy process, and I agree with Paul that it’s political,” Baskett said.
Shiloh SD 85 superintendent Dale Sauer said he is on board with keeping the study and process out of the hands of the schools to keep it all as objective as possible.
Leslie Tesluk-Ecker, Shiloh District 85 the board president, provided the following statement: “We are willing to participate in a feasibility study in the interest of exploring any possible benefit for our students. However, we are not able to invest funds that we do not have toward the study. Should it be funded without Shiloh District funds, we will participate.”
Brent Whipple, a Central District 104 BOE member, said his board was open to a study “just to see what (consolidation) will look like and what it will cost our taxpayers,” adding that just because everyone is on the same page with moving forward on doing a study, it doesn’t mean everyone would agree with consolidation in the end.
OTHS 203 superintendent Darcy Benway and BOE members, Brandt House, Donna Johnson and Laura Jacobi-Van Hook, agreed with members to let the chamber ‘steer the wheel,’ on soliciting donors and deciding who conducts the study.