Crisis has its upside.
Years of dysfunctional school funding formulas and unreliable payments from our debtor state prodded 10 local school districts to start studying consolidation. What is interesting is that there is an 11th district being studied, but that district isn’t especially interested in participating.
St. Libory Elementary is the smallest district with only 87 students, so it seems like the most likely target for consolidation. It has “no intention” of consolidating even though it is being included in the study of merging the Freeburg high school district with the Freeburg elementary and Smithton elementary districts.
It is also the most expensive school for taxpayers in that area, but spends the least on educating the kids. Plus, their students are not scoring as well as neighboring elementary districts.
The owner of a $100,000 home in St. Libory spends $78 more on elementary education than a peer in Smithton and $215 more than a Freeburg homeowner. St. Libory sees 42 percent of its students meet state standards compared to 49 percent in Freeburg and 54 percent in Smithton.
St. Libory doesn’t see the problem.
“We believe we’re serving our students well. We’re in good financial shape. So there’s no real driving force to make us want to consolidate right now,” Superintendent Thomas Rude said. “It’d be different, I think, if we were scraping to get by, if our enrollment was in the 40s and everything we did was a challenge. But it’s just not right now.”
No crisis. But they could do better for their students and taxpayers.
If they cost the most but put the least into the classroom, that means overhead is to blame. Those test scores could be better if resources were redirected to the classroom and support functions were shared.
If they were willing to trade small-town independence for the achievement ratio of Freeburg Elementary, then another 10 students in St. Libory would hit the state achievement mark.
Kudos to O’Fallon and Shiloh area leaders for taking on the consolidation question there. Same to Brooklyn, Venice and Madison, where urban poverty and low property values conspire to drive up costs and drag down achievement.
Tiny Venice Elementary has 109 students, a cost of more than $25,000 per student and only 11 percent meet state standards. That’s up three percentage points from the year before.
Madison Unit 12 Superintendent Warletta Brookins said a study should show whether the two small districts would benefit from broadened academics and extracurriculars. It’s not much of a leap to guess “yes,” that piggybacking on Madison’s ability to now field a football team and restore band would be a good thing.
Remember: The state reimbursement goes up for districts that include elementary and high schools in one unit. More money from the state means less money from property taxpayers.
Giving our kids access to a broader range of classes, educators and activities is a positive move. In all three of these consolidation studies, the question should be less “whether” and more “how,” with fiscal efficiencies and academic outcomes the common goals.