On Nov. 8, voters in Madison County will decide whether to merge three school districts into one and what the financial future, and thus the educational quality, of another large district will be.
East Alton-Wood River High School District 14, East Alton District 13 and Wood River-Hartford District 15 are considering merging into one new district. The new district would have a property tax rate of $3.40 per $100 of equalized assessed value.
It is hard to imagine a scenario in which taxpayers should not be on favor of consolidation in our land of 6,968 governmental units, of which 863 are school districts. Consolidation means fewer administrative salaries, less duplication of functions, greater bargaining and buying power and a greater ability to shift resources to where there is a need, such as a big second-grade class in Hartford or declining math scores in East Alton’s junior high.
O’Fallon, Belleville and Freeburg should all look at school consolidation, with emphasis on eliminating single-school districts and merging feeder schools with high school districts.
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The other referendum is in Edwardsville, where school district finances have been heavily impacted since the recession started in 2008. They have cut 101 positions while enrollment has stayed the same. They depleted reserve funds and took on debt. Faced with a $4.5 million deficit, they cut $2.5 million in expenses but need to lay off 80 more teachers to make up the rest.
They don’t want to do that. They do not trust state lawmakers to step up to their funding obligations, and in fact state money dropped from $16.7 million in 2008 to $9.5 million last year because the district is considered property rich. Property taxes are the remaining option.
The referendum asks Edwardsville School District 7 voters to increase their property taxes by 55 cents per $100 assessed valuation. That means another $183 on a $100,000 house, but the increase will still bring the total rate in line with many other large metro-east communities.
Edwardsville school leaders have made the cuts and sacrifices. The question for voters is: How much more sparse should students’ educations become?